Vulcanology

Brains’ lease on the Vulcan in Adam Street expires at the end of May when the pub reverts to the landowner, property developer Derek Rapport.  The ‘Save the Vulcan’ campaign, successful in winning the pub a three-year stay of execution in 2009, has had to be rekindled in a desperate effort to preserve this last outpost of ungentrified, unghettoized unconformity in the city centre’s monotone corporate feeding-trough (see http://save-the-vulcan.blogspot.co.uk/).  Everybody’s agreed the pub shouldn’t shut: the people of Cardiff, the LibDem Council, Cardiff Central MP Jenny Willott, Brains, the Echo, James Dean Bradfield, even the St Davids 2 developers who have all the car-parks they will ever need.  But none of that matters.  Only one person’s opinion counts: Derek Rapport.  He will do what’s in the best interests of Derek Rapport.

The South Wales Echo referred to the Vulcan as “Cardiff’s oldest pub” in a recent piece by chief reporter Martin Shipton.  With the 130 years of archives at its disposal, there’s no excuse for the paper to make such a clanger.  Had Martin bothered to read my blog https://dicmortimer.wordpress.com/2010/05/10/theoldest-pub-in-cardiff/ he would have discovered that the Rummer Tavern (1713) is the city centre’s oldest pub and the Vulcan is currently merely 12th oldest.  If I, a one-man band with zero resources, can do the research and work it out, why can’t the Echo?

The Vulcan’s cause is not assisted by such inaccuracy; it doesn’t need faux-historic credentials to justify its survival.  It was built in 1853 on Bute land as part of Cardiff’s first development east of the Taff Vale Railway, the tightly-packed terraced streets of Newtown.  It is thus Newtown’s last building standing –  the entire framework of streets that once embraced it have all gone, including Duffryn Street which ran alongside the Vulcan down to the footbridge over the mainline railway and thence to Newtown’s southern half and the docks.  Brains acquired it in 1956, one of five pubs bought from local wine merchants Greenwood & Brown in the company’s first significant expansion after WW2 (the other four were the Model Inn, Quay Street, the York Hotel, East Wharf, the Ship, James Street and the Cross Inn, Rumney), before the St Davids 2 development 40 years later paved the way for Rapport to take over.  An attempt was made to get Cadw to list the building but the heritage quango refused, saying the run-of-the-mill mid-Victorian boozer was of no particular architectural merit.  This is a mistake all too typical of Cadw, fixated as ever on castles and stately homes, because it is actually an architectural gem packed with original features from the green and brown exterior glazed tiles to the unique terracotta urinals, as well as being of cultural importance as Brains’ last spit-and-sawdust house, sociological importance as a communal nucleus of genuine diversity and vitality, and not least brewing importance, garlanded with CAMRA awards for keeping a lovely pint of bitter.

Leading Welsh Tory Rapport isn’t interested in any of that. He got hold of the land after the investment banks and hedge funds behind St Davids 2, having bamboozled the Council into agreeing to its compulsory purchase, decided it wasn’t required after all and sold it on.  Already rich beyond the dreams of avarice, the Rapport family business thus acquired a prime chunk of Cardiff. Unavailable for comment and answerable to nobody, Rapport found it tactically convenient to reprieve the Vulcan previously during the height of the banking collapse, sitting tight until the “market” picked up and earning brownie points for his responsiveness to the campaign. The fact that a few ‘celebs’ happened to get involved, giving the Vulcan an attention it had never hitherto received, was vital to its survival. An equally voiciferous campaign will be needed again (there’s a meeting in the pub at 6pm tomorrow – March 29th) to persuade Derek Rapport to do the right thing. He could make a start by dipping into his loose change and spending the £250,000 needed to renovate the crumbling building and provide working kitchens and habitable living quarters, then handing it over gratis into community ownership while slightly amending plans for a few speculative 20-storey buildings on the site by cutting out a couple of parking places. Then Derek Rapport would earn something money can’t buy: respect. It’s time for him, dare I say it, to show some rapport with his home town.