The Golden Cross, a splendid Grade II listed public house, can be found at the junction of Customhouse Street and Hayes Bridge Road in Cardiff.
There’s been a pub on the site since 1849, although the name has changed over the years: it opened as the Shields and Newcastle Tavern, and was renamed the Castle Inn in 1855 before settling on the name of The Golden Cross in 1863.
Around 1903/4 it was rebuilt in its current form, with the façade incorporating glazed tiles and lots of wonderful architectural details.
Despite some beastly modern additions, much of the original interior remains intact, including this glazed tiled mural of Cardiff Castle.
The new landlord – a very friendly and affable chap – told me that he intends to strip out a lot of the modern junk, hopefully starting with the horrible clock behind the bar.
Writing in his informative study, Cardiff Pubs and Breweries (The History Press), Brian Glover recalled some of the pub’s colourful history:
Despite its religious name, it was far from a holy place. Its rebuilding only moved it upmarket.
It offered a lively night on the tiles for sailors off the ships and developed a reputation as the smartest brothel in town.
Its alluring atmosphere was laced with legends. One of its red-light regulars, Carrie Gilmore, was notoriously stabbed to death in West Canal Wharf in 1907, and her murderer was dubbed the Cardiff Ripper.
Glover continues with a heart-warming tale of how the fascist Oswald Mosley was sent packing in the 1930s:
Oswald Mosley tried to hold a meeting of his black-shirted fascists in the pub before the Second World War, but his car was overturned by local protesters, and he retreated, bruised and battered back to London.
During the war American servicemen enjoyed the delights of the Golden Cross and one young GI is alleged to have swung his first fist in anger during a fight in the bar. His name was Rocky Marciano.
The pub’s original ceramic bar is one of just two in Wales – one of only 20 in the UK – and it’s recognised as one of the top 10 most unspoilt pubs in the UK.
Despite being listed in 1975, the pub was scheduled to be flattened by a new ring road scheme in 1978.
Thankfully, the county council was persuaded to reverse its original decision after a campaign led by the South Wales Echo and its regulars.
The British Listed Buildings website explains the bar’s Grade II status:
Public house; circa 1903 (date on tiles in bar).
Saloon bar on ground floor at west end; walls lined with polychrome tiles; tiled floral frieze in relief. Bar with hard wood top and with external covering of tiles with grotesque pattern in relief. Engraved glass in doors and screen. Walls of entrance lobby, larger one of Cardiff Castle, dated 1903 and smaller one of Cardiff Town Hall; both by firm of Craven, Dunhill and Co, Salop.
Two-storey public house. South east front of 6 bays (L bay is broader), plus splayed corner bay to R; 2 bays to sides. Red brick with yellow brick pilasters, aprons etc. 2 windows with curved heads to each bay on first floor with single cornice and aprons over; parapet above. On ground floor, elaborate tiled pub front with Venetian windows; green and gold tiling with raised lettering to fascias, tiled panelling to pilasters and stall risers.
Reason for Listing
Striking public house, well-preserved, with particularly good tiles to façade and interior.
Hosting a large bar and lounge area, the pub now hosts regular live music acts, drag nights and comedy events.
Although the Golden Cross is now a popular gay/LGBT pub – it was voted as the best gay pub in the UK in 2004 – it’s equally welcoming to people of all sexual persuasions.
Here’s some more photos from my visit: