Cardiff Coal Exchange on Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list for the second time

Cardiff Coal Exchange, Butetown, Cardiff, Glamorgan. Grade II*, Seward & Thomas, 1884-86

Cardiff Coal Exchange on Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list for the second time

Photo credit: Connor McNeill


Griff Rhys Jones, Victorian Society President, has launched the Society’s 2024 list of the Top Ten Endangered Buildings in England and Wales. This is the second time this magnificent French Renaissance-influenced building appears on our list of Endangered Buildings, and it remains one of the most important 19th-century buildings in Wales.

Griff Rhys Jones, Victorian Society President, said: ‘I can’t believe this. The Coal Exchange is Cardiff. It symbolises the power that built this city and the story of King Coal. Not only that. It is loved. Both as a building and a very successful hotel. It has been structurally damaged by foolish plans to modernise but is not irreparable and the Victorian Society are demanding that a proper plan to care for what is one of Wales’s most important nineteenth century buildings gets on the table.’

Here the world’s coal prices were determined, and the first £1 million cheque was signed in 1904. Disfigured in the 1970s by an underground car park, segments of the building have been left to ruin. In recent times it was run as a music venue and offices until 2013 when safety concerns forced its closure. After a prolonged period of refurbishment, some of the most significant rooms were included in a scheme that converted a part of the building into a hotel. The hotel portion of the building, one of the most popular in Cardiff, has a high ranking on TripAdvisor, but has been hit by maintenance problems and safety issues. In February 2023 a burst water pipe forced the hotel to close. The water build-up was so intense that Cardiff Council ordered that part of the building had to be demolished because of concerns a section was not structurally sound, and a road closure was put in place due to the risk of falling masonry. Aerial photos in the Welsh media have shown troubling damage to the structure, with entire floors missing from the top to the ground with, one side of the building now missing. Reports in the media have said the section removed will be rebuilt, but it is unclear if this will happen.

The Cardiff Coal Exchange has been affected because its owners a Liverpool-based company, Signature Group, went into administration creating headlines in local, Welsh and English national newspapers. The company had for seven years acquired historic buildings across UK cities to redevelop into hotels, offices, and flats. The Coal Exchange was just one of these buildings. In April 2020 one of Signature Group’s biggest subsidiaries, Signature Living Hotel Ltd, entered administration owing £113m. The hotel has kept going and in March 2024 opened again in time for the Six Nations rugby tournament.

The Victorian Society and the city’s conservation officers are concerned that this listed building is still not being properly served by the current holders of the site. The demolished section needs to be rebuilt. After the recent closure and reopening of the hotel under new ownership in Spring 2024, there is mounting concern about the future of a building that played a pivotal role in Wales’s history. A long-term, sustainable plan needs to be found to reverse the building’s decline and ensure the preservation of this important piece of Welsh history.

James Hughes, Director of the Victorian Society, said: ‘It has been a tumultuous decade for Cardiff’s magnificent yet mired Coal Exchange since last appearing on the Society’s Top Ten list. While largescale façade-retention and demolition schemes thankfully did not come to pass, and parts of the building have been converted and operated as a hotel, the building’s future remains very much in doubt. Not only do large sections of the building remain vacant, but recent catastrophic leaks have forced hugely invasive works entailing the loss of considerable amounts of historic fabric. Enough is enough. It is now time that a considered and comprehensive plan for the restoration and reuse of the Coal Exchange is formulated, and we call on all stakeholders to come together to address what is undoubtedly a pressing issue of national importance.’

The full Top Ten list can be read here and includes a requisitioned school where author Vera Brittain nursed during WWI, the last of one of the world’s first purpose-built amusement parks, a banqueting hall for the workers, one of the first tennis pavilions in the world, and a building where the first £1m cheque was signed. The listed buildings include a Scheduled Monument and two Grade II*- listed buildings.

The list is based on public nominations from across England and Wales, and the buildings selected represent industrial, religious, domestic, and civic architecture from across the nation with unique historical and community significance and value. Nominated buildings must be dated between 1837 and 1914. The Victorian Society has announced its list of Top Ten Endangered buildings fourteen times.

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