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Cathays Park
Cathays Park, Cardiff.png
Aerial view of Cathays Park
Type Civic centre
Location Cardiff, Wales
Created Early 20th century buildings

Cathays Park (Welsh: Parc Cathays) or Cardiff Civic Centre is a civic centre area in the city centre of Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, consisting of a number of early 20th century buildings and a central park area, Alexandra Gardens. It includes Edwardian buildings such as the Temple of Peace, City Hall, the National Museum and Gallery of Wales and several buildings belonging to the Cardiff University campus. It also includes Cardiff Crown Court, the administrative headquarters of the Welsh Government, and the more modern Cardiff Central police station. The Pevsner architectural guide to the historic county of Glamorgan judges Cathays Park to be "the finest civic centre in the British Isles". The area falls within the Cathays electoral ward.

History

Cathays Park was formerly part of Cardiff Castle grounds. The present day character of the area owes much to successive holders of the title the Marquess of Bute, and especially the 3rd Marquess of Bute, an extremely successful and wealthy businessman. They acquired much of the lands in Cathays through investment and by inheritance through a marriage to Charlotte Windsor in 1766.

The idea of acquiring the Cathays House park as an open public space was raised in 1858 and again in 1875. In 1887 it was suggested the park could commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Negotiations didn't begin until 1892, when Lord Bute agreed to sell 38 acres for £120,000 (equivalent to £13 million in 2016 ). The idea of relocating the Town Hall to the park was controversial, but it was also proposed to locate a new University College building there.

Cathays memorial map with proposed site for National Museum and Library
Cathays Park and the site of the proposed National Museum & Lbrary in 1905

On 14 December 1898, the local council bought the entire 59 acres (24 ha) of land for £161,000 from the Marquess of Bute (equivalent to £17 million in 2016 ). As part of the sale, the 3rd Marquis of Bute placed strict conditions on how the land was to be developed. The area was to be used for civic, cultural and educational purposes, and the avenues were to be preserved.

A six-month Cardiff Fine Arts, Industrial and Maritime Exhibition which included specially constructed boating lake, a wooden cycling track and an electric railway was held in 1896.

In 1897 a competition was held for a complex comprising Law Courts and a Town Hall, with Alfred Waterhouse, architect of the Natural History Museum in London, as judge. The winners were the firm of Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards, who would later go on to design the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. These were the first two buildings of the ensemble, and have an almost uniform façade treatment. The east and west pavilions of both façades are identical in design, except for the attic storeys, which are decorated with allegorical sculptural groups. On the Crown Court these are Science and Industry, sculpted by Donald McGill, and Commerce and Industry, by Paul Raphael Montford, while on the City Hall are Music and Poetry by Paul Montford and Unity and Patriotism by Henry Poole.

The third site in this complex went empty until 1910, when the competition for a National Museum of Wales was won by the architects Smith and Brewer. The design parts from the Edwardian Baroque of the Law Courts and City Hall and is more akin to American Beaux-Arts architecture, particularly in the entrance hall where a similarity to McKim, Mead and White's later Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has been noted. The Museum site was not bounded to the north by an avenue so there were scarcely any limits on the depth of the building; the 1910 plan was almost twice as deep as it was broad. The First World War, however, ensured that progress on the building was very slow. By 1927 part of the East range, with the lecture theatre funded by William Reardon Smith, was complete. Further extensions came only in the 1960s and 1990s; these remained faithful to the original design on the exterior (and included sculpture by Dhruva Mistry) but are of a neutral character on the inside.

Due to presence of the then Welsh Office building, by the 1990s 'Cathays Park' became used by some as a metonym for that Government Department, and after devolution in 1999, for the Welsh Government's civil servants and ministerial offices.

Buildings

Key to heritage status
Status Criteria
I Grade I listed. Building of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important
II| Grade II* listed. Particularly important building of more than special interest
II Grade II listed. Building of national importance and special interest
Buildings and structures Listed building status Architect Year opened Image
Aberdare Hall II Caröe, W. D.W. D. Caröe 1895 Aberdare Hall, Cardiff University.JPG
Biosciences and Tower Building No listing Owen, DaleDale Owen / Percy Thomas Partnership 1968
Tower Building, Cathays Park.JPG
Bute Building II Thomas, PercyPercy Thomas and Ivor Jones 1916 Bute Building Cardiff.jpg
Cardiff Central Police Station No listing Dryburgh, JohnJohn Dryburgh 1968 Central Police Station, Cardiff.jpg
Cardiff Crown Court I Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards 1906 Cardiff Crown Court.JPG
Cardiff Law School No listing 1963 Cardiff Law School - Geograph-3427392-by-Bill-Boaden.jpg
Cardiff University main building II* Caröe, W. D.W. D. Caröe 1905 Cardiff-University-main.JPG
City Hall I Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards 1906 City Hall, Cardiff, Wales.jpg
Cathays Park 1
(part of the Crown Buildings complex)
II Hanton, P. K.P. K. Hanton 1938 Cardiff 13741 Crown Buildings 01.JPG
Cathays Park 2
(part of the Crown Buildings complex)
No listing Gordon, AlexAlex Gordon 1979 Crown Building-CP2, Cardiff.jpg
Glamorgan Building
(former Glamorgan County Council building)
I Harris, VincentVincent Harris and Thomas Anderson Moodie 1912 Glamorgan Building, Cardiff University.JPG
Hut in Gorsedd Gardens II Not known Gorsedd Gardens hut September 2017.jpg
National Museum and Gallery of Wales I Smith, Arnold DunbarArnold Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer 1927 Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd.JPG
Public conveniences on Museum Avenue II Not known Public Conveniences (Cathays Park) geograph-4989804-by-Richard-Sutcliffe (cropped).jpg
Redwood Building
(Welsh School of Pharmacy)
No listing Sir Percy Thomas & Son 1961 RedwoodBuilding.JPG
Temple of Peace II Thomas, PercyPercy Thomas 1938 Temple of Peace and Health, Cardiff.JPG
University of Wales, Registry II Wills, H. W.H. W. Wills 1904 Cardiff 13737 University of Wales Registry 01.JPG
Welsh National War Memorial II* Comper, NinianNinian Comper 1928 Cofeb Ryfel Genedlaethol Cymru.JPG

Gardens

Formal gardens in Cathays Park
Alexandra Gardens with the Welsh National War Memorial and City Hall in the background
Gorsedd Gardens and the Gorsedd Stones
Friary Gardens with a statue of the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the background

In addition to the large lawn in front of the City Hall, Cathays Park includes three formal gardens and a tree lined park. All of the spaces are within conservation areas and many of the surrounding buildings are listed. The open spaces are very important to the image of the city. Several important buildings overlook these well kept spaces. Each of the three gardens has its own very different character and each retains its original layout.

Alexandra Gardens

Named after Alexandra of Denmark, the queen consort of Edward VII, Alexandra Gardens is located at the heart of the civic centre. It consists of 2.5 hectares of beautifully maintained flower beds and grass, with the Welsh National War Memorial standing at its centre.

Fountains in front of Cardiff City Hall
The tree-lined Queen Anne Square

Gorsedd Gardens

Situated in front of the National Museum, this garden has as its centrepiece a stone circle constructed in 1899, when the National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in Cardiff. The garden's name refers to the Gorsedd of Welsh Bards, the ceremonial order that governs the Eisteddfod. The landscaped garden, was previously known as Druidical Gardens, but the name Gorsedd Gardens was later adopted. The gardens has statues of subjects including David Lloyd George and Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart. Overlooking Gorsedd Gardens, though not strictly part of the Cathays Park complex, is Park House (or McConnochie House), an influential work by the Neo-Gothic architect William Burges.

Friary Gardens

Constructed in honour of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, it contains topiary, a statue of him standing upon a stone pedestal blazoned with a coat of arms, and clipped hedges around the perimeter.

Queen Anne Square

Queen Anne Square is a tree-lined grass park, which was built in the 1930s and 1950s. It was designed to be aligned with the main thoroughfare of King Edward VII Avenue, on a site that was originally planned for a Welsh Parliament House. The square is enclosed by a tree-lined no through road, by Corbett Road to the south and by Aberdare Hall to the south east.

Sculpture

Statues that are listed structures
Listed Name Sculptor Date Listing grade Image
Statue of Third Marquess of Bute Macgillivray, James PittendrighJames Pittendrigh Macgillivray Early 20th century II Statue of Third Marquess of Bute, Cardiff - geograph.org.uk - 624490 (cropped).jpg
Statue of John Cory John, GoscombeGoscombe John 1906 II Statue of John Cory, Cathays Park.jpg
Statue of Lord Aberdare Hampton, HerbertHerbert Hampton 1898 II Statue of Lord Aberdare, Alexandra Gardens, Cathays PArk, Cardiff.JPG
Statue of Lord Ninian Edward Crichton Stuart John, GoscombeGoscombe John 1917 II Lord-Ninian-Crichton-Stuart-by-Aberdare-Blog.jpg
Statue of David Lloyd George Michael Rizzello 1960 II Statue of David Lloyd George, Cardiff.jpg
Statue of Godfrey, First Viscount Tredegar John, GoscombeGoscombe John 1909 II Statue of Godfrey, First Viscount Tredegar.jpg
Statue of Judge Gwilym Williams of Miskin John, GoscombeGoscombe John c. 1906 II Cardiff Crown Court - Gorsedd Gardens Road, Cardiff - statue - Gwilym Williams (19316375059).jpg
South African War Memorial (also known as the Boer War Memorial) Toft, AlbertAlbert Toft 1909 II* Cathays Park Boer War Memorial (cropped).JPG
Girl by Robert Thomas in Gorsedd Gardens
Three Obliques (Walk In) by Dame Barbara Hepworth, outside Cardiff University School of Music
Relief sculpture on the outside of Redwood Building

Memorial stones

Memorial stones in Cathays Park
Falklands War memorial for the 7 serviceman from Cardiff who died during the conflict
Memorial for all those who died during the Falklands War
The Gift of Life Stone memorial stone dedicated to organ donors

Cathays Park has memorials stones dedicated to:

  • Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who, towards the end of WWII saved the lives of up to 100,000 Jews by issuing them with Swedish passports enabling them to flee to safety who would have gone to the Nazi extermination camps. This stone was unveiled on 24 November 1985.
  • The servicemen of Cardiff who served in the Falklands War.
  • Those who fought in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, which was unveiled in October 1992. The inscription reads "Dedicated to the Welsh volunteers for liberty who defended democracy in the Spanish Civil War".
  • The charity Kidney Wales Foundation, gifted a memorial, called The Gift of Life Stone, to those who donated their organs and tissues to save others. It is located in Alexandra Gardens and stands 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) tall. It was unveiled on 26 October 2007.
  • A war memorial was unveiled in November 2019 in recognition and thanks for the contributions made by the diverse ethnic and Commonwealth man and women who served the country during World War I, World War II and subsequent conflicts.

Gates and colonnades

Gate in the front of the main building of Cardiff University
Gate in the rear of the main building of Cardiff University
Colonnade and gateway into Queen Anne Square
Official listed name of gates and colonnades Listing status
University of Wales, Cardiff, including Forecourt Walls II*
Colonnade and gateways at south end of Queen Anne Square II

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