The Norwegian Church was built in 1868 as a meeting place for Norwegian seafarers during the industrial revolution. Established in Cardiff Bay’s West Dock, the church was in a prime position and the congregation grew substantially with up to 90 Norwegian ships berthed in the docks at any one time. The church has since been relocated to its current position overlooking the waterfront of the Bay. The Church has a past steeped with history and remains a cherished landmark and important centre for the Nordic community in South Wales.
Why a Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay?
When the coal trade expanded in South Wales in the 1860’s, Norwegian ships came in large numbers to Cardiff to carry the coal overseas. These coal miles also required large quantities of cheap timber, which were supplied from Scandinavian pine forests and transported to South Wales by Norwegian vessels.
While your typical sailor was rumoured to have a girlfriend in every port, Norwegian sailors had instead a church in every port. These churches not only offered a place of worship, but also somewhere that the sailors could feel at home away from home. Norwegian seafarers were a familiar sight in Cardiff during the industrial revolution, and many decided to settle to run businesses associated with shipping, including Roald Dahl’s father Harald.
Best selling author of children’s and adult books, Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff, on the 13 September 1916 to Norwegian parents Harald and Sofie. He was named after the Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen who famously beat Captain Scott to discover the South Pole. His father Harald, from Oslo co-founded the successful ship broking company Aadnessen & Dahl in Cardiff from 1880.
The family regularly worshipped at the Norwegian Church where the children were baptised as infants. Dahl spent his early childhood in Cardiff, and at the age of nine was sent to the Cathedral School in Llandaff before attending private schools in England.
The Norwegian Church Collation of Heritage Project (2022 – 2023)
In September 2022 the Norwegian Church Cardiff Bay Charity was awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund Grant for the Norwegian Church Collation of Heritage Project. This project consists of gathering knowledge and exploring the heritage of the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay and other former Norwegian Seamen’s Mission Churches in South Wales.
The main output for the project thus far is the exhibition, ‘Exploring the Past: Uncovering the Story of the Norwegian Church’, which was open from May 17 – June 29th 2023. The exhibition consisted of objects from our own collection, and other artifacts that were acquired or loaned to us as a part of the heritage project.
We also digitised the exhibition, to ensure it had a long-lasting and wider legacy, and was fully accessible to all. To explore the exhibition and the history of the Norwegian Church click on the picture below:
The Norwegian Church over the years
The Norwegian Church continued to be an important place for the Norwegian community, particularly during the Second World War, when Norwegian seafarers were unable to return to their occupied homeland. The shipping trade in Cardiff Docks declined in the decade after the war and the church began to deteriorate.
In 1987 the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust was established to raise funds to rescue the church – Roald Dahl became its first appointed president. Sadly, Roald Dahl died on 23 November 1990 at his home in Buckinghamshire before the reconstruction of the church was completed.
Roald Dahl Day is celebrated every September to honour the author’s work.
Today the Welsh Norwegian Society has been appointed as guardian of the Norwegian Church.The Society was formed as a natural successor to the former congregation, and has members from Cardiff, Swansea, Norway and beyond. The Norwegian Church Arts Centre provides an important focus for the group.
Anyone is welcome to attend our special events or get in touch if you are interested in joining the group. The annual celebration of Norwegian Day is on 17 May where a colourful parade and flag-raising ceremony is followed by refreshments in the Norwegian Church. Monthly Sunday afternoon meetings are held at the Norwegian Church and open to all. See our events calendar for details.