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Cathays Park or Cardiff Civic Centre[1] (Welsh: Parc Cathays) 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".[2] The area falls within the Cathays electoral ward.

Cathays Park
Grade I listed buildings in Cathays Park
TypeCivic centre
LocationCardiff, Wales
Coordinates51°29′12″N 3°10′49″W / 51.4866°N 3.1804°W / 51.4866; -3.1804Coordinates: 51°29′12″N 3°10′49″W / 51.4866°N 3.1804°W / 51.4866; -3.1804
CreatedEarly 20th century buildings


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.[3] 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.

On 14 December 1898, the local council bought the entire 59 acres (24 ha) of land for £161,000 from the Marquess of Bute.[3] 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.

Aerial view of Cathays Park

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.[4]

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 '90s; 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,[5][6][7][8] and after devolution in 1999, for the Welsh Government's civil servants and ministerial offices.[9][10]


Buildings and structures Listed building status
Biosciences and Tower Building No listing
Bute Building Grade II
Cardiff Central Police Station No listing
Cardiff Crown Court Grade I
Cardiff Law School No listing
Cardiff University Grade II*
City Hall Grade I
Crown Building of the Welsh Government Grade II
Glamorgan Building (former Glamorgan County Council building) Grade I
Hut in Gorsedd Gardens Grade II
National Museum and Gallery of Wales Grade I
Public conveniences on Museum Avenue Grade II
Redwood Building (Welsh School of Pharmacy) No listing
Temple of Peace Grade II
University of Wales, Registry Grade II
Welsh National War Memorial Grade II*


Formal gardens in Cathays Park
Alexandra Gardens with the Welsh National War Memorial 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. 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. Given their location, large numbers of people visit and pass through and they are popular venues for lunchtime breaks.

Fountains in front of Cardiff City Hall

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.

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 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 standing upon a stone pedestal blazoned with a coat of arms, and clipped hedges around the perimeter.


Statue Listed structure status
John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute Grade II
John Cory Grade II
Lord Aberdare Grade II
Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart Grade II
David Lloyd George Grade II
Godfrey Charles Morgan, 1st Viscount Tredegar Grade II
Judge Gwilym Willams of Miskin Grade II
South African War Memorial (also known as the Boer War Memorial) Grade II*

Memorial stonesEdit

Memorial stones in Cathays Park
Memorial dedicated to organ donors

Cathays Park also 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.[11]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Newman, John (1995). Glamorgan. The Buildings of Wales. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-071056-4. p. 220
  3. ^ a b Prof. William Rees (1969), "The Reformed Borough, 1836–1914", Cardiff – A History of the City, The Corporation of the City of Cardiff, pp. 336–337
  4. ^ "Cardiff Remembered: When tigers, lions and crocodiles patrolled the city at 1896 exhibition – Wales Online". Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  5. ^ "Rural Communities in Wales (Hansard, 4 June 1985)". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  6. ^ "WALES (Hansard, 22 April 1969)". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  8. ^ "Public Accounts (Hansard, 28 October 1992)". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  9. ^ Powys, Betsan (24 May 2011). "The art of delivering delivery". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  10. ^ Andrews, Leighton. Governing Wales (PDF) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ "Gift of Life Stone". Kidney Wales Foundation. Retrieved 17 July 2017.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit