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Norwegian Church, Bute East Dock, Cardiff

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Cardiff’s Norwegian Church, originally located in West Dock in Cardiff Bay, was built in 1868 by Sjømannskirken:The Norwegian Church Abroad as their first purpose-built Sjømannsmisjonen (Seamen’s Mission). The Church of Norway had established the idea of the Sjømannskirken due to the fact that the Norwegian merchant fleet and rapidly grown into one of the largest in the world, and a need for spiritual support for the sailors while in port abroad was identified.

Cardiff, along with Liverpool and London, had grown to one of the UK’s largest ports with the exports of coal and iron from the south Wales valleys, and the import of Norwegian timber created a substantial Norwegian community in the Bay. In 1866 Pastor Lars Oftedal started to provide services aboard ship, but was replaced by Pastor Carl Herman Lund in 1868. The same year the church was built to serve for the religious needs of the Norwegian seamen, as well as providing ‘home comforts’ in the form of Norwegian food, communications with home, and social and cultural activities, fast becoming a focus of activity for the growing permanent Norwegian community in the city.

The Cardiff harbour authorities granted permission for the church on the proviso that it was a ‘temporary structure’ that could be taken down if the site was required. It was therefore built of a timber-frame clad in corrugated iron sheeting, all shipped from Norway: a pair of crossed oars were placed under the foundations of the church in the tradition of the Norwegian Seamen's Mission. This simple construction made the building flexible, with various additions being made in 1884, when a reading room was added, 1885 when the bell tower was added, and 1894 when the reading room was extended. By 1915, the small, simple Gothic church was hosting some 73,500 seamen a year.

After the war, Welsh coal exports, and so the Norwegian presence in Cardiff declined. During the Second World war the church was painted dark green to make it less visible to the Luftwaffe, for whom Cardiff Docks was a major target. In 1950 a Norwegian ship provided grey paint, and the church was not repainted in it’s original while until 1964. In 1959, due to the declining numbers, the church was rented to the Lutheran World Federation and was used by combined communities of Norwegians, Germans, and Estonians in the city.

It closed in in 1974 and was left to deteriorate. The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation proposed demolition in 1987 to make way for a new road, prompting the establishment of the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust, the first President of which was Roald Dahl. The Church was dismantled and put into storage until a suitable site could be found to rebuild. In 1991 rebuilding started on its current site at East Dock, where the landowner requested that it was reclad in timber. Timber for the cladding, and for replacements to the framing, were provided from Norway. The church was officially reopened on 8 April 1992 by Norwegian Princess Märtha Louise, and now operates as a community arts centre hosting cultural events. Further refurbishment took place between 2020-2011.

The church is constructed in the simple Gothic style, typical of rural churches in Norway of a similar date. A black brick base, incorporating a foundation stone of 1991 laid by Dr Ole Drandal, supports a timber frame clad with shiplap horizontal timbers. There are pointed-arch entrances via the east elevation, now into a corridor to the café, the north elevation directly into the café space, and the west elevation via the bell-tower to the stairs and worship space. The ground floor is lit by a series of small lancet windows with cusped heads; two to the worship space are fitted with stained glass, one 19th century of repeating geometric patterns, the other a 1992 replacement by Rhiannon Powell depicting fish. To the first floor of the east and west elevation are opposing, seven-circled, rose windows, also of timber. On the south-west corner is a square bell tower, topped with an octagonal broach spire with a cross finial.

The southern part of the church is a full height worship/community space set with a modern pulpit of pale oak decorated with cusped lancet relief, and a low dais. From the ceiling scissor trusses, hangs a large, brass chandelier of tiered globe lights and a model ship (a feature found in all Norwegian seamen Missions) both from the original church.

To the north on the ground floor, the spaces is now used as a café and kitchen, with ancillary rooms. The first floor mezzanine above is sued as an exhibition and additional events space.

In 2022 the first phase of the Norwegian Church Heritage Project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, undertook to collate information and knowledge of the both the Cardiff Church and other seamen’s missions across south Wales at Newport and Swansea. In 2023 a second phase of work began to carry out further research and a programme of outreach and promotion regarding the history and heritage of the Norwegian community in Wales.

As part of this project, the Royal Commission carried out new, detailed survey work of the church to ensure digital preservation within the National Monuments Record of Wales, and to provide a basis for future digital education or engagement resources. Laser scanning of the interior and exterior has created a highly accurate point cloud of the structure (view a video fly-through on YouTube) and its fittings, while UAV photogrammetry of the exterior has provide a detailed model of the exterior (view the model on SketchFab).

RCAHMW, June 2024

Cadw Listing Description (Grade II)

Norwegian Church Online Exhibition

Peoples Collection Wales 

The Western Mail 24th March 1887

Herbert E. Roese, Cardiff's Norwegian Heritage. The Welsh History Review, Vol.18, No.2. December 1996.

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application/pdfRCAHMW ExhibitionsBilingual exhibition panel entitled Butetown: Diwydiannau ac Adeiladau; Butetown: Industries and Buildings produced by RCAHMW 2013.