During the Seventies, Cardiff was in a state of flux. Heavy industry, once the lifeblood of the city, was in terminal decline. Vast swathes of Cardiff’s historic docklands were being demolished. Whole neighbourhoods had vanished.
It was against this backdrop that John Briggs began exploring the South of the city. He’d moved to Wales from his native Minnesota to train as a teacher. But his real passion was photography. One afternoon in 1974 he took a stroll through Cardiff’s docklands and couldn’t believe what he saw.
“I was photographing what was basically a ghost town,” he remembers. “I’d never really seen anything like it.
“Fortunately I was in the right place at the right time, historically speaking, for what had gone before and what was to come after.”
What came after was, of course, the wholesale regeneration of the docklands. The industrial waterfront was reconstructed and rebranded as Cardiff Bay.
But 40 years ago those grand designs were still a long way off.
“I was just looking at empty streets and thinking, gosh, these streets used to be full of people. These houses were people’s homes.
“Although so much of it was derelict, and so much of it was abandoned, there were still plenty of traces of what had been here in terms of the shipping that still existed, and the shipping that had disappeared.”
For three years, Briggs photographed the ruins and relics of Cardiff’s once flourishing docklands. He managed to capture on film the last vestiges of community life and the dying throes of the city’s steel and maritime industry. By the end of the decade, many of the buildings and places he had photographed were gone for good.
For the ITV Cymru Wales series Dock of the Bay, Briggs has returned to Cardiff to re-photograph the same 1970s locations using the same old camera. It’s a snapshot of how Cardiff has changed over 40 years.
- You can see more on this story in Dock of the Bay. Tonight at 7:30pm on ITV Cymru Wales. It will then be online at: itv.com/walesprogrammes