The Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay

The Pierhead Building, by William Frame (1846-1906). 1896; restored and reopened in 2010 as a visitor and education centre for the Welsh National Assembly. Listed Building. Terracotta. By Cardiff Bay Inner Harbour, Wales. Photographs (2009) and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or cite it in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Left to right: (a) Front view. (b) Detail of tower. (c) Terracotta panel.

William Frame's bold and confident building replaced the old Bute Dock Company offices after they were destroyed by fire in 1892. Grade I listed, it is described in the listing text as "a two storey Gothic building faced with red brick and terracotta," with "an embattled clock tower over the main entrance and a fine terracotta panel on the west face." A case study concerned with its restoration adds: "The building incorporates a French-Gothic Renaissance theme with carved friezes, hexagonal chimneys, gargoyles, an ornate clock tower and a natural Welsh slate roof" ("The Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay"). Unmissable because of its colour as well as its prominent site, and rich in ornamental detail, it made a clear statement about the company and indeed about thriving, cosmopolitan Cardiff to those arriving in the harbour. The building's interior is equally fine. The listing text continues: "Of most interest is the Port Manager's Office on the first floor, which features an ornamental chimneypiece with canopy, castellation, foliated columns, and herringbone tiles to the back."

William Frame is sometimes assumed to have been a Welshman, but genealogical records (accessible on the FreeBMD website) show that he was born in Melksham, Wiltshire, in December 1846. He is already known to have been articled to a local architect in nearby Trowbridge, Wiltshire (DSA biography report). After that he became an assistant to John Prichard, the Welsh architect who so magnificently restored Llandaff Cathedral, then assistant and Clerk of Works to William Burges during the latter's extensive work on Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch. Frame too won acclaim for this work. Not unexpectedly, therefore, he took over from Burges when he died in 1873, and became the Third Marquess of Bute's architect in Cardiff. Despite a drinking problem, he continued in the Marquess's employ for the rest of his life.


Listing text. British Listed Buildings. Web. 4 March 2011.

Basic Biographical Details: William Frame. Dictionary of Scottish Architects (this useful resource includes architects who worked in Scotland, as Frame had done, as well as those who were actually Scottish). Web. 4 March 2011.

The Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay (a professional restoration case study for the National Assembly of Wales). Web. 4 March 2011.

Last modified 11 April 2017