This is probably not the definition of “urban” intended in the challenge, but it is the urban environment filtered through my perspective as an erstwhile nineteenth-century literature scholar.
In a previous lifetime, before the nappies and the playgroups, when I used to spend my time deconstructing more involved texts than the latest episode of In the Night Garden,* I wrote an MA dissertation on the representation of the Great Exhibition in Victorian popular magazines. I was fascinated by the way people responded to the novel form of architecture employed in the Exhibition building, where solid brick walls and tiled roofs were replaced by ethereal, transparent glass panels supported by a tracery of ironwork. This ferro-vitreous structure had a powerful impact on people used to dark, enclosed spaces: there are reports of visitors to the Exhibition becoming dizzy and disorientated, unable to take in the scale of the building, and dazed by the novel light effects inside. I read a lot of Walter Benjamin and, as I was living in Leeds at the time, spent many hours photographing the city’s arcades and covered market. Going home to Preston, I would admire the decorated capitals of the columns in the station building, with their garlands of roses and lilies. Even now, as a Victorianist manquée, I am very much in love with this type of urban architecture.
I’ve already photographed my favourite arcade in Cardiff, so this is my take on another of the city’s nineteenth-century buildings.
This is the Central Market, dating from 1891 and still very much bustling today. It’s a major Cardiff landmark, and one of my favourite places to visit in the city. Entering the building from St Mary’s Street, you pass through a heavily-ornamented stone façade and an arched passageway. Then the vista opens up, and the great glass roof soars above the white-painted booths and lock-ups: everything is bright, airy, and the epitome of Victorian modernity. For a really impressive view, you can climb up to the gallery like I did, and admire the clock tower, which also housed a raised office for the market superintendent. As well as being a lovely building, the market is an excellent place to browse for fruit and vegetables, local meats, second-hand books and hard-to-find records. It’s very much a part of my urban landscape.
*Although, seriously, this is worth doing, as the programme has some awfully bizarre elements: the disturbingly cultish tendencies of the Pontipines; poor, OCD-afflicted Makka-Pakka, cuddling his stone in his lonely cave; the inconsistent scale of the Ninky-Nonk; the Haa-Hoos, who seem to exist merely embody a Barthesian Effet de réel… Maybe I’ve spent too much time watching CBeebies, but it seems pretty real to me.