Roald Dahl and the little Norwegian church

Looking over Cardiff bay with #Norwegian church on the left
Cardiff bay with the little church on the left

Every Thursday door loving bloggers from around the world come together to share photos of doors and tell the stories behind them. My entry to Norms Thursday doors this week is from Cardiff the capital of Wales which we visited for a St. David’s day walk on Sunday. The little white clapboard church with its stubby spire where Roald Dahl was baptised is in stark contrast to the imposing modern buildings including the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff bay.

The wooden church has a welcome sign in three languages.
The Entrance to the Norwegian church

The small door has the word welcome in three languages croeso (welsh) welcome (English) and velkommen (Norwegian).

In the 19th century Cardiff was a major west coast port along with Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow. Millions of tons of coal were exported to power the factories of the industrial revolution as well as steam trains and ships.  It is claimed that the first million pound cheque was signed in Cardiff’s coal exchange building. This may be a myth but certainly the new found prosperity attracted a large international community including many Norwegians. A lot of pit props were made from Norwegian spruce and Norwegian merchant ships would have been a common sight in the docks.

In 1868 the Marquess of Bute gave the Lutheran church of Norway a piece of land close to the docks so that they could build a church. The first church was built out of iron sheets and designed to be moved if necessary on the instructions of the harbour master. In 1894 it was clad in wood and became known as the little white church.

The Dahl family

One of the Norwegians attracted to Cardiff was  Harald Dahl from Oslo. He settled in Llandaff and co-founded a shipping company. He and his wife Sofie worshiped regularly in the little white church and all their children were christened there. Roald was named after the explorer Roald Amundsen who beat Captain Scott to the South Pole.

Roald Dahl  became one of the best known authors of Children’s books including  Matilda, the BFG, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the chocolate factory. His books have sold more than 250 million copies world wide. I am sure we have all got our favourites.

The little white church with a Norwegian spruce
The front of the Norwegian church with a Norwegian spruce in front.

The church became a refuge for Norwegian sailors offering food and shelter especially during the first world war and the second world war when Norway was under Nazi occupation.

After the second world war the Coal industry declined as did the port of Cardiff.  The last seamen’s priest Per Konrad Hansen was withdrawn and the church was closed and deconsecrated in 1974.  It seemed likely that the church would be demolished to make way for road widening but the church preservation trust with Roald Dahl as its first president managed to raise £250,000 to allow the church to be disassembled and put into storage.

Cardiff bay has undergone an immense transformation in recent years with the Cardiff millennium centre being built on the original site.  In 1992 reconstruction of the church was started and it was reopened by Princess Martha Louise of Norway. Although he did not live to see it I think Roald Dahl would have been proud.

Norwegian flags on a table #Norwegian church
Visitors inside the church. Note the Norwegian flags

It is now a coffee shop, art gallery and craft centre and visitors can still see the christening bowl where Roald Dahl and his sisters were christened.  On warm days you can sit outside with a drink and look out over the bay. Find out more here

Visiting Cardiff bay and the Norwegian church

Cardiff bay is about two miles from the train station and town centre. We enjoyed a pleasant river walk along the Taff trail which starts in Roald Dahl Plas.  If you are feeling less energetic you can catch the train or the Number 6 bus.

The Cardiff bay barrage which was one of the most ambitious engineering projects in Europe created an enormous freshwater lake by capturing water from the river Taff and the river Ely. It has allowed the port area to develop from the notorious Tiger bay into one of the most prestigious waterside developments in Britain.  You can also visit the Welsh Assembly building or some of the many shops or restaurants in the vicinity.

Author: Anne Fraser

Hi, I am Anne, I am a retired nurse from Bristol in South West England. I am married with five grown up children, four boys and a girl , a grandson and a cat. I like History, travel and reading. I hope to connect with other people with similar interests.

27 thoughts on “Roald Dahl and the little Norwegian church”

  1. I didn’t know Roald Dahl was from Cardiff or about his link to the little Norwegian church! He was always one of my children’s favorite authors when they were younger. I used to read his books to them at night before bed. What beautiful photos!

  2. Somewhere along the line I fell in love with Bryn Terfel, a Welsh Opera singer, and have wanted to visit Wales ever since. This is definitely on my bucket list. I recently visited Quebec, Canada and discovered that many of the old churches there are now repurposed into something else – library, theater etc. It’s nice that this one didn’t meet with the wrecking ball.

  3. That is such a fascinating story. I love Roald Dahl his stories were a massive part of my childhood and I have loved sharing them with my own kids too.

  4. Hi Anne, Your heading photo is very beautiful and the setting very tranquil. You are right on how we all have our favourite Roald Dahl books. I was not at all aware that he was born near Cardiff. Very interesting post and great photos! Thank you for sharing.

  5. I love learning about iconic structures and their connection to famous people. Although the structure now serves a different purpose, it would still be nice to see the Christening bowl used to baptize Roald Dahl. Thanks for sharing this article. I enjoyed reading it.

  6. Quite a lovely little church. It is always heartwarming to hear stories of historic old structures that are saved from the wrecking ball.
    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    1. If I had not been told I would not have known that it had been packed away in storage for years. I suppose the size of the Christmas tree might be a clue.

  7. No way!!! What a super lovely post! Not only have I realised that bloggers post images of doors on a Thursday, but that Roald Dahl was born near Cardiff! You certainly learn something every day! Sim x SimsLife

  8. Roald Dahl also wrote some of the best mystery/horror stories I’ve ever read. I didn’t know about the Cardiff/Norway connection. Thanks for the information!

  9. I have never heard of this church before. But WOW it is absolutely beautiful, I love the connection to Roald Dahl, and the fact that he helped save it.
    Thank you for sharing x x

  10. Cardiff! I didn’t know Raold Dahl was from there. One of the things I found about Norwegians is that many of them will have an ice cream in any weather. So that’s pretty appropirate.

  11. Very interesting. I was wondering why there was an ice cream sign outside the church, until I read further. An art gallery and craft centre is a great way to put the building to use again.

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