With today’s blog, the next in the current series looking at the overseas Seamen’s Missions in Cardiff in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I want to turn my attention to some of the more hidden and unknown aspects of this rich organisational-religious culture in the port. The Norwegian Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, both of which still stand, and in the case of the latter still serves the community as a religious building, are well-known. Their history, if often misreported in certain details, is at least known about by those familiar with Cardiff’s multicultural past. Less well-known, and in some cases perhaps almost completely unknown, are the missions that served the Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, German, and Latvian, communities that settled in the port and were bolstered by regular maritime trade. These missions, about which it is difficult to find historical information in English, and as good as nothing in Welsh, nevertheless serve to remind twenty-first century readers of the cultural complexity of the ‘Chicago of Wales’, and are vital aspects of the past to recover in these days of strong anti-immigrant rhetoric.
We begin more than 150 years ago, in the year 1865. In that year, a German seaman called James Schmutz first organised a mission in Cardiff for seamen from the German-speaking lands of central Europe. Although not yet part of a formal organisation, Schmutz worked alongside (and initially for) the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society, which had established itself in Cardiff in about 1857, and the Baptist missions in the docks. Born in 1844, Schmutz lived in Cardiff from the 1860s until his death in 1927. Throughout that period, the census described Schmutz as a missionary, although he was also described in the press as a colporteur, which may have provided him with a source of income, but at no time does it appear that he was ever formally ordained. As far as can be established, at least from histories of German religious organisation in Cardiff, the German Church was essentially a small wooden hut located on Bute Street, although trades directories do also hint at another possibility. Following the closure of the Greek Orthodox Church at 31 Patrick Street in about 1877, it appears that Schmutz was able to rent the same building to open a German Mission Church (although in some trades directories it is mislabelled as a ‘Dutch Church’). Although this does not appear to have lasted for too long, since by the mid-1880s the building was being used as a bonded store. It is possible, of course, that both elements are true.
The loss of the mission church was, however, only the end of the initial phase of development in the German community in Cardiff. Encouraged by the success of the Scandinavian seamen’s missions, German churchmen sought to establish their own formal institutions in overseas ports. This coalesced in the formation in Hanover in September 1886 of the Committee for the Religious Provision of German Seamen Abroad (or Komitees für kirchliche Versorgung deutscher Seeleute im Ausland). Later known as the German Seamen’s Mission – Deutsche Seemansmission – it was through their auspices that the first ordained pastor arrived in Cardiff from Germany, his name was Julius Jungclaussen (1854-1921). Jungclaussen was born in one of Northern Europe’s most contentious regions, at least in the middle of the nineteenth century, namely the southern part of the Jutland peninsula. (His childhood home was in Itzehoe.) Two wars, the first won by Denmark, the second by Prussia, between 1848-1851 and 1864 (the course of the latter was recently made into a television programme), saw the region become Danish and then German. Not surprisingly, Jungclaussen grew up able to speak both languages – something he put to use during his pastorates in Cardiff and Hamburg.
Having arrived in Cardiff in July 1887, Jungclaussen set about re-organising the German Mission. In November that year he established a prayer room and reading room at 186 Bute Street, and in April 1888 was able to take over the entire building establishing the Seamen’s Home that remained there for nearly thirty years. The Seamen’s Home at this point was run by Herr Hillmann, a former sailor from Vegesack, a district in the northern part of the city of Bremen. Jungclaussen remained in Cardiff until the end of March 1891 when he was called back to Germany – he made his home in Hamburg, where he served as Seamen’s Pastor for a number of years. Hillmann subsequently followed him to work at the Seamen’s Misssion in Hamburg.
Jungclaussen’s replacement was Paul Oehlkers (1862-1922), a native of Hanover, who lived in Cardiff until 1895. The Seamen’s Home was now managed by August Weckman. The Mission by this stage also included a vicarage located at 59 Romilly Crescent, Riverside. Church services conducted by Oehlkers, and Jungclaussen before him, were held either at the Home or at the Norwegian Church. Trades directories for Cardiff in this period describe an evangelical mission held at a Gospel Hall on Bute Street, which was organised by James Schmutz, but these two institutions seem to have been distinct from each other. The yearbooks and material printed by the German Seamen’s Mission do not discuss Schmutz’s endeavour, as evidence for this. Oehlkers left Cardiff for Bremerhaven at the end of March 1895 and returned to Hanover in 1897. Oehlkers’s replacement was Pastor Körner, who lived in Cardiff until 1900 and then the Julius Achilles, who lived there until 1906.
The twenty years between Jungclaussen’s arrival and Achilles’s departure had seen a dramatic increase in the number of German ships entering Cardiff and the other Bristol Channel ports – not surprising since this was nearing the peak of the coalfield economy, which came in the decade or so before the First World War. At that time, the German Mission in Cardiff was so busy that it could sustain two pastors with a third based entirely in Swansea. This was to be the arrangement until the outbreak of war in 1914 brought a sudden end to the Mission and the evacuation of its personnel. Elsewhere in Britain, German pastors were actually arrested by the authorities, so this evacuation was hardly over-dramatic. By this point, a Dutch Mission (or Tehuis voor Zeelieden) had opened at 143-144 Bute Street, which was able to take over some of the responsibilities of the German Mission during wartime.
The German Mission, as with the Norwegian Church, played a vital role in sustaining German associational culture in Cardiff in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. But it also played a vital role in providing support to the cultural and religious life of those living and working in Cardiff who came from the Baltic states, particularly Latvia and Estonia. Cardiff was extremely unusual in having a Latvian missionary living there and working amongst the seamen who came to the port. In fact, when the Livionian Seamen’s Mission (as it was originally known) was first established at the end of the 1890s it had two places of operation: Riga, as would be expected, and Cardiff. The most prominent of the Latvian missionaries was Konstantins Uders (1870-1919), who came there in about 1900 and left in 1906. He was ordained as a minister in 1903. Before Uders’s arrival in Cardiff, which enabled year-round services to be organised, the Latvian mission rotated on a six-monthly basis with a missionary resident in South Wales between December and March. Given the itinerant nature of the Mission, it needed support from more established organisations and this was readily given by the German Mission. The Livonian Missions were inspired by (and in many ways were an offshoot of) the German Seemannsmission – Oskar Schabert (1866-1936), who helped to established the Livionian organisation, had worked at the Seaman’s Mission in Hamburg before translating to Riga. Uders was killed by Latvian Bolsheviks during the Latvian War of Independence, 1918-1920, ostensibly because of his support for Germany.
Of the Estonian residents and seamen living in Cardiff, it is difficult to establish exactly what provision was made, except that at the beginning of the twentieth century they took part in the services of the Latvian Mission run by Konstantins Uders. From the 1920s onwards, Estonians were served by the Finnish Mission (about which more in a moment) and several Finnish pastors who were able to speak Estonian. The Finnish Mission has its origins in the Finnish Church in London which opened in 1882. In contrast to other ports, such as Hull, which did have Finnish churches of their own, Cardiff was initially served by the minister from London who visited once a month to conduct services in Finnish at the Norwegian Church. That changed after Finnish independence in 1917 and a new seamen’s mission was opened in Hannah Street after the First World War. Overseen by its secretaries, initially Frans Emil Uuro and later J. Ingren, the Finnish Mission was a feature of Cardiff’s docklands until the 1950s and was noted particularly for its rather handsome church organ. Despite more formal organisation, services continued to be held by ministers travelling from London rather than a resident pastor. The same seems to have been true of Swedish services, which catered both for Swedish citizens and Swedish-speaking Finns.
In all of this, the Norwegian Church emerges as an even more important institution in the docklands of Cardiff than at first glance it appears. In the blogpost on the Greek Church, I speculated that the relative fortunes of the two perhaps reflected the material circumstances of the two communities, but it is clear that the Norwegian Church was also sustained precisely because it provided a religious home not only to Norwegians but to Swedes, Finns, Germans, Latvians, Estonians, Danes, and Icelanders too. A church building, then, which was multicultural and multilingual in a city that was multicultural and multilingual. This demonstrates just how integrated Cardiff was with Europe and the rest of the world, and how much the rest of the world knew about (and took an interest in) what was going on in South Wales – a term I use deliberately. But such discussion is for another time. I’ll end, instead, with this thought: the source material that has supported the last three posts has come from half a dozen languages, but primarily English, Norwegian, German, and Swedish, a linguistic dexterity necessary for any kind of internationalist project. That simply reflects the interconnected world as it was (and continues to be), and it reflects the true meaning of ‘American Wales’ as well. For that was a world that knew itself to be part of the international.