How a British pub was rebuilt brick by brick and built back to 1915

If buildings could talk, The Vulcan in Cardiff would certainly have some stories to tell. Actors, musicians, students, miners and mill workers made Hollywood the old drinking hole in the center of the city. But 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, last orders were called on 2 May 2012. New owners planned to turn the site around in his car park, ie and dismantled. Last weekend, however, almost 12 years to the day, it opened again – in a completely new location.

“We had to slide down there in 2012 – we were very worried about trophy hunters – so we boarded it up and four weeks later we were dismantling it brick by brick,” explains Janet Wilding, head of the historic buildings unit at St Fagans National History Museum on the outskirts of Cardiff.

Although the campaign was unsuccessful in saving the Vulcan in its original home, it convinced the building’s owners to offer to donate it to St Fagan’s. The Wilding team, who specialize in moving historic buildings from across Wales, were looking for a pub to add to their collection, which already included shops, farmhouses, a post office and a church, among other things.

Vulcan pub

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

“When we’re rebuilding a building, one of the first questions is to interpret the date when we want to return it to,” explains Wilding, as she shows me around the reopened pub, which now located in a corner of the San Fagan site. “We knew from the beginning that we wanted to bring the Vulcan back to 1915 when it was first built as a pub and we had completed a major renovation.”

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

The legendary institution in its original location, where it attracted an eclectic mix of drinkersThe legendary institution in its original location, where it attracted an eclectic mix of drinkers

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

In 1915, it reopened as a public house: the Vulcan Hotel (although there is no evidence that it hosted guests) – named after the Roman god of blacksmithing due to its proximity to local metalworks. Run by the McCarthy family, it soon became an institution.

“The rest of the area around the Vulcan was demolished in 1966 and the pub became one of the last surviving buildings in that community,” explains Dafydd Wiliam, St Fagan’s chief historic building keeper.

While Wilding and his team worked on moving the foundations, it was up to Wiliam to resurrect the Vulcan’s soul.

“We were able to interview Ellen McCarthy, the landlord’s daughter from 1915, who provided invaluable insight,” Wiliam explains. “She was born here, so she could tell us what she was like when she was growing up, and about life in Newtown.”

A small wooden partition creates a cubby with enough space for two or three drinkers to stand to the right of the bar. Wilding’s team was discovered during the dismantling, covered in plywood, but it was about something McCarthy had mentioned to Wiliam.

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

vulcan pub walesvulcan pub wales

The Vulcan has been revived back to its former glory in 1915, the year it first became a pub – Wales News Service

Dismantling and rebuilding the pub was a logistical challenge for Wilding. Each pane of glass was removed in order, the walls were taken apart brick by brick, and a large 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 any tiles – set in cement – would last,” says Wilding.

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

rebuilding a welsh pubrebuilding a welsh pub

The Vulcan being rebuilt brick by brick, 10 miles from its original site – news service of Great Britain

The newly built Vulcan, Wilding estimates, is about 90 percent original. A few bricks were lost in the move, the floorboards had to be replaced, and 1980s furniture was swapped out for period alternatives from the museum’s stores.

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

“A lot of the men were working around dust and soot, and they would have a pint to clear their throat,” explains Wiliam. “There’s a few spikes all over the place, they’d be pouring on the floor too, so the sawdust.” Maybe it’s a good job they replaced the floorboards…

Most importantly, the locals are impressed. “The attention to detail is something else,” enthuses Simon Martin, who visited the Vulcan before it closed and came to the reopened pub to review the beers on offer from Glamorgan Brewery created by Vulcan Ale.

One detail I love is the globes on the windows. When I visited in 2012, they were decorated for Brain’s Brewery, but have been recreated to pay tribute to WW Nell, the brewery that supplied beer in 1915.”

Vulcan pubVulcan pub

Writer Jack Rear spins a pint inside the lovingly restored Vulcan – Jay Williams

“The rebuild took a while, but you can understand why,” says Nick Jones, a St Fagans volunteer who used to work in front of the Vulcan in the late 1980s and remembers going in after work every Friday. “We used to visit because the food was great; it was next to a slaughterhouse so it was very fresh.”

Unfortunately, for the time being, the food is not on the menu, but the pub has not lost its joy, according to Jones. “I think the tiles on the outside of the building gave it a sense of pride that people still appreciate – look at everyone outside taking selfies. It’s amazing what they’ve done. It’s a different feeling, but it’s still a great place.”

As I settle in for a delicious pint of Vulcan Ale, I lean back and move around. Pubs have changed since these doors first opened. The Vulcan went through the same transformations. Now it’s back to its roots.

Another five buildings made brick by brick

St. Fagan’s is a treasure trove of old buildings, restored. In its new home the Vulcan is located next to a row of shops and a working man’s club, both of which appeared in a 2007 episode of Doctor Who set in the 1910s, thanks to its period accuracy. But you don’t have to go to Wales to find old buildings being relocated.

Frauenkirche, Dresden, Germany

Destroyed during the firebombing of Dresden in World War II by the Allies, this magnificent Lutheran church with a vaulted roof was rebuilt between 1994 and 2006 using the original materials kept as war memorials.

Clavell Tower, Dorset

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

Old London Bridge, Arizona United States of America

Work to redesign the original London Bridge and widen its arch was completed in 1824. However, the new bridge only lasted a century before being replaced by the current concrete and steel bridge. The old bridge was torn down and bought by Robert P McCulloch, a real estate developer, who moved the whole thing to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where it remains to this day.

Abu Simbel, Aswan, Egypt

There were two huge temples in Egypt carved out of the rock in honor of the immovable Pharaoh Ramesses II from the 13th century BC. By 1959, however, the rising waters of Lake Nasser, created by the construction of the Aswan Dam, threatened to submerge it. A team of experts cut the monuments into 30-tonne blocks and transported them to a new home, where they remain open to visitors.

The Carlton Tavern, London

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *