How a Welsh pub was rebuilt brick by brick and brought back to 1915

If buildings could talk, The Vulcan in Cardiff would surely have some stories. The old watering hole in the city center is a favorite of Hollywood actors, musicians, students, miners and factory workers. But the fact that it is still standing at all is a minor miracle.

Despite a years-long campaign to save it, led by local residents and former drinkers including Rhys Ifans and members of the Manic Street Preachers, the final orders were given on May 2, 2012. New owners planned to turn the site into a parking lot. and it was dismantled. However, last weekend it reopened almost twelve years ago – in a completely new location.

“We had to run there in 2012 – we were very concerned about trophy hunters – so we boarded it up and four weeks later we are dismantling it brick by brick,” explains Janet Wilding, head of St Fagans’ historic buildings department National. Historical Museum on the outskirts of Cardiff.

Although the campaign failed to save The Vulcan in its original home, it convinced the owners of the buildings to offer to donate it to St Fagans. Wilding’s team, who specialize in relocating historic buildings from across Wales, were looking for a pub to add to the collection, which already included shops, a farm, a post office and a church.

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The pub closed in 2012 despite a celebrity-backed plan to save the pub – Dimitris Legakis/Athena Picture Agency Ltd

“When we rebuild a building, one of the first questions is the interpretation date of when we want to put it back,” Wilding explains as she shows me around the reopened pub, which now sits in a corner of the St Fagans site . “We knew from the start that we wanted to take The Vulcan back to 1915, when it first became a pub and had just undergone a major renovation.”

The Vulcan was originally built in 1853 as a pair of terraced houses. From the outside you can still see the two front doors. In its original form, as many as 25 people would have lived there; New Town, where it once stood, was developed to house Irish laborers hired by the Marquess of Bute to build his new East Bute dock. It was labeled a slum and there was a lot of anti-Irish sentiment among the locals.

The infamous institution in its original setting, where it attracted an eclectic mix of drinkersThe infamous institution in its original setting, where it attracted an eclectic mix of drinkers

The infamous institution in its original setting, where it attracted an eclectic mix of drinkers – Dimitris Legakis/Athena Picture Agency Ltd

In 1915 it reopened as a pub: the Vulcan Hotel (although there is no evidence of any guests staying there) – named after the Roman god of blacksmiths due to its proximity to a local metalworks. It was run by the McCarthy family and quickly became an institution.

“The remainder of the Vulcan area was demolished in 1966 and the pub became one of the last remaining buildings of that community,” explains Dafydd Wiliam, St Fagans’ chief curator of historic buildings.

While Wilding and her team worked to move the foundations, it was up to Wiliam to bring the soul of The Vulcan back to life.

“We were able to interview Ellen McCarthy, the daughter of the 1915 landlord, who provided us with invaluable information,” Wiliam explains. “She was born here so she could tell us what it was like growing up and about life in New Town.”

A small wooden partition creates a booth with enough room for two or three drinkers to stand to the right of the bar. It was discovered during dismantling by Wilding’s team, after being covered with plywood, but it matched something McCarthy had said to Wiliam.

“In her childhood, women weren’t allowed to drink with the men, so they were locked behind this partition – it’s completely original,” says Wiliam enthusiastically. Now of course it’s just for show; women and men are welcome to drink together.

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The revived Vulcan is being restored to its former glory of 1915, the year it first became a pub – Wales News Service

Dismantling and rebuilding the pub was a logistical challenge for Wilding. Every pane of glass was removed in sequence, walls were taken apart brick by brick and a huge Victorian ceramic urinal had to be carefully removed.

Not everything could be saved. The tiles on the outside of the pub could not be moved. “We had tile conservators do an assessment and they quoted us more than anything else, and they couldn’t guarantee that tiles – set in cement – ​​would survive,” says Wilding.

However, the tile specialists still helped. “Of the tiles we were able to remove, we found that they all had the name of the company that made them – Craven Dunnill Jackfield – who could re-create the tiles for us,” Wilding explains. “They had kept the original molds so we could commission new ones that were exactly the same as the old ones. It works well because in 1915 when we redecorated the pub, the tiles would have been brand new too.”

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The Vulcan is being rebuilt brick by brick, 10 miles from its original site – Wales News Service

The recently rebuilt Vulcan is, Wilding estimates, about 90 percent original. During the move, a few stones were lost, the floorboards had to be replaced and furniture from the 1980s was replaced with then-relevant alternatives from the museum’s shops.

What strikes me is the love and attention to detail. Those new floorboards were reclaimed from a whiskey distillery to keep with the drinks theme. The tiles in the kitchen at the back of the building are the same ones Ellen McCarthy played on. You’ll even find sawdust all over the floor – a traditional feature of Welsh pubs in industrial areas.

“Many of the men were busy with dust and soot, and drank a pint partly to clear their throats,” Wiliam explains. “There are a few spittoons around here, they also spit on the ground, hence the sawdust.” Maybe it’s a good thing they replaced the floorboards…

The most important thing is that the locals are impressed. “The attention to detail is something else,” enthuses Simon Martin, who had visited The Vulcan before it closed and came to the reopened pub to review the beers on offer from Glamorgan Brewery, which has created a Vulcan Ale.

One detail I like is the roundels on the windows. When I was there in 2012 they were decorated for Brain’s Brewery, but they redid them as a tribute to WW Nell, the brewery that provided beer in 1915.”

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Writer Jack Rear has a pint in the lovingly restored interior of the Vulcan – Jay Williams

“It took a while to rebuild, but you can see why,” says Nick Jones, a volunteer at St Fagans who worked opposite the Vulcan in the late 1980s and remembers going in every Friday after work. “We used to come there because the food was sensational; it was next to a slaughterhouse, so it was very fresh.”

Unfortunately, there is no food on the menu for the time being, but that has not meant that the pub has lost its shine, says Jones. “I think the tiles on the outside of the building gave it a sense of grandeur that people still appreciate – look at everyone taking selfies outside. It’s amazing what they’ve done. It’s a different feeling, but it’s still a fantastic place.”

As I sit down to a delicious pint of Vulcan Ale, I sit back and enjoy my surroundings. Pubs have changed since these doors first opened. The Vulcan underwent the same transformations. Now it has returned to its roots.

Five more buildings have been recreated brick by brick

St Fagans is a treasure trove of old buildings, recreated. In its new home, The Vulcan sits next to a row of shops and a working men’s club, both of which appeared in a 2007 episode of Doctor Who set in the 1910s, thanks to their accuracy of the period. But you don’t have to go to Wales to see old buildings moved to new locations.

Frauenkirche, Dresden, Germany

This beautiful domed Lutheran church was destroyed during the Allied bombing of Dresden in World War II and was rebuilt between 1994 and 2006 using the original materials preserved as a war memorial.

Clavell Tower, Dorset

Built in 1830 by the Reverend John Richards Clavell of Smedmore House as an observatory and folly on Hen Cliff, just east of Kimmeridge Bay, this Venetian-style tower was threatened by coastal erosion. Before the cliffs below could tumble into the sea, The Landmark Trust took it apart brick by brick and reassembled it further inland.

Old London Bridge, Arizona, USA

Work to redesign the original London Bridge and widen the arches was completed in 1824. However, the new bridge only lasted a century before it was replaced by the current concrete and steel bridge. The old bridge was taken apart and purchased by Robert P. McCulloch, a real estate developer, who moved the entire structure to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where it still exists to this day.

Abu Simbel, Aswan, Egypt

Two enormous temples in Egypt, carved into the rock in honor of Pharaoh Ramses II, have stood motionless since the 13th century BC. In 1959, rising waters of Lake Nasser, created by the construction of the Aswan Dam, threatened to inundate it. A team of experts cut the monuments into 30-ton blocks and transported them to a new home, where they will remain open to visitors.

The Carlton Tavern, London

Unlike The Vulcan, The Carlton Tavern managed to remain on its Maida Vale site even after developers demolished half the building in 2015. After a campaign by local regulars, Westminster City Council ruled that proper planning permission had not been obtained. the whole was rebuilt. The pub reopened in 2021 and has been serving customers ever since.

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