A Tale of One City

Cities are born, they grow and as strange as it sounds given long enough they can even die.

Cities have memories. 

Without memory a city is nothing. 

Shot with the X100 and the X-Pro1, with the 18mm f/2 and 35mm f/1.4

Find your way to the top floor of the library. Slide open the drawer and pull out the map and trace a finger across an infant city, reading its history. A canal threading down the valleys, through the city to the new docks, shipping out a wealth of coal across the world. Marshland is drained, concrete laid and steelworks spring up in the district of Splott - a network of streets named for metals and planets spread out from the factories, housing workers. Check the shelves and pull out a census. There, that house there, on Asgog Street. Every ten years a slice of family history - births, deaths and marriages, names and professions. 

Step across the room, fire up the microfiche reader and speed through a century and a half of newspapers. The opening of the university. Wedding announcements and pit disasters. Tiger Bay gives birth to a community of many colours, creeds and cultures living in harmony. A rain of bombs fall upon Grangetown, a bakery and the families sheltering within its basement smashed to the winds.  Fashions and TV listings and adverts for the sales. The Clash play Sophia Gardens, the Welsh fight for their language, cottages are burnt and songs are sung. Print me a hard copy of that.  

More drawers. Council minutes and reams of statistics and reports depicting the growth of a city through boom and bust, acts of philanthropy and corruption. Photographs of streets and Royal Visits and Victorians in their best Sunday dress, frozen in time in astonishing detail on images the size of playing cards. Old diaries and hymns, schematics and plans. 

For a long time that was my life; sifting through velum and parchment and paper, photographs and microfilm and newsprint - all of them memories, finding ways to help people recapture the past. 

And then one day the floor closes for emergency repairs. The local history department is boxed up and shipped out to a smaller branch library in the suburbs. I move out to work in another branch and a year and a half later, under threat of library closures and job cuts, I leave the library services, never to return. 

I had good times there, learning the history of my adopted town from the wonderful lady who ran the department. I miss it still. 

A city needs a place that honours its memory, that can tell its story. To celebrate, to mourn, to laugh and to warn from the lessons of the past. Without it who is there to record the future history of a city? You lose memory and you lose yourself, the story ends and future generations are robbed of a great treasure. 


The story of this city is the sum of three hundred thousand tales and the tales of their forebears. More lines are written and images captured every day. Who will be there to tell our tale a hundred years hence? 

Sometimes memories are something you have to fight for.

Thanks for reading.