Crime in the Cardiff Arcades

The ambiguous space that the arcades inhabit between being a public right of way and an indoor retail space has posed problems relating to law and order right from when the arcades first opened in the late Victorian period. A look at local newspaper articles from the period gives an idea of the kind of problems that were common, with numerous reports of stealing and criminal behaviour including a woman who pawned two stolen coats from Mr Korner’s shop, claiming that she’d been given them by an ‘unknown sailor’.

In addition to the incidents of theft that took place in the arcade at this time was the more important task of changing the perception of the arcade as a whole. Numerous letters to Cardiff newspapers complain that it was a ‘rendezvous for the rough element’ where ‘children and roughs are allowed to perambulate at will’ and prostitutes parade up and down ‘at least 20 times a night’, leading one reader to comment that the arcade even had the potential to ‘contaminate the morals’ of young ladies.

Of course, in addition to complaints made by the general public these examples provide an insight into why shopkeepers were so desperate to introduce a sense of respectability and order to the arcade. In fact, they were so desperate to improve the state of the arcade that in 1880 the majority tenants who ran businesses in the Royal Arcade signed a petition that was presented to the Cardiff Arcade Company in which they offered to contribute the sum of £1 per year towards employing a policeman for the arcade.

But should it have been their responsibility to pay for law enforcement in the arcade? Eventually an inspector was sworn in by the Chief Constable but paid for by the Arcade Company and its tenants, making him a kind of glorified security guard, also illustrating the conflict of responsibility that comes as a result of the arcade being neither a public right of way nor an exclusively private property.

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