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Situated on the Bristol Channel the seaside town of Penarth, which has a population of more than 21,000 is the second largest town within the Vale of Glamorgan.
For more than a century the town has been a magnet for holiday makers and day visitors. Its Victorian/Edwardian character and charm together with its proximity to the Welsh capital have also made it a popular place to live.
The town itself is urban in character but its coastal position commands some fine views of the Bristol Channel including the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm, as well as the English coastline opposite.
Penarth owes its development to the massive expansion of the coal industry in the 19th century. Its proximity to Cardiff and its waterfront meant that it was ideally situated to meet the world demand for Welsh coal through the construction of the docks.
Prior to the building of the dock, Penarth was little more than a village but by 1901, the population was 14,228.
Penarth soon became self sufficient with its own local government, thriving shopping centre and community facilities. Many of the town’s features owe their origin to the landowners of the time and the results of their vision can be seen in the many fine buildings and parks which make Penarth what it is today.
Thanks to the generosity of these landowners, Penarth earned the reputation of ‘The Garden by the Sea’ because of its splendid parks and open spaces that link the seafront and the town centre.
The Victorian and Edwardian founders of the town were responsible for some of the finest examples of architecture of the time, ranging from churches, commercial and public buildings as well as many of the ornate houses and villas that were the homes of the ship owners, coal magnates and master mariners who had moved into the town.
The importance of these buildings and townscape led to substantial parts of Penarth being designated a conservation area. Among the town’s listed buildings are St Augustine’s Church on Penarth Head, the Pier, the Yacht Club and former baths on the Esplanade, private dwellings and even telephone boxes at different locations.
The closure of Penarth Dock in 1963 almost 100 years after it was first opened, saw the end of a significant period in the history of the town.
However the 1980s witnessed a major revival in the area following the acquisition of the dock by the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Part of the dock was emptied and infilled with a view to redevelopment at a later date, while the remainder was earmarked for development as a marina as well as housing and other facilities, known today as Penarth Portway Marina. Following the marina development Penarth has witnessed one of the major engineering feats of the late 20th century with the construction of a barrage between south Cardiff and Penarth.
Much of Penarth Haven has now been developed for housing with some commercial activity at the marina itself.
The Custom House a Grade II listed building has been converted to a restaurant and bar and this facility can be found at the Penarth end of the barrage , below Penarth Head.
The town is now eagerly awaiting further development of the Pier Pavilion building which is the subject of funding applications by the Penarth Pier Project and the Beach Cliff building which is currently being redeveloped.
Penarth continues to cater for a wide range of needs with local family owned shops and outlets as well as a number of nationally – known names. The traditional appearance and character of the town centre shopping area provides a welcome relief from the much larger city centre stores and shopping centres. In addition to the more traditional shopping outlets covering food and fashion the shopper will find a wide variety of chemists, jewellers, bookshops and stationers, hairdressers, travel agents, estate agents, DIY and hardware as well as gift shops, antiques and art galleries and well as a the Windsor Arcade.
The seafront provides a café style quarter enabling customers to eat and drink ‘al fresco’.
As well as the more traditional form of public transport of buses and trains Penarth can be reached from Cardiff City Centre by waterbus and from Cardiff Bay by waterbus and a road train.