Cathays Park

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

Cathays Park (Welsh: Parc Cathays) or Cardiff Civic Centre[1] 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 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 did not begin until 1892, when Lord Bute agreed to sell 38 acres for £120,000[3] (equivalent to £14 million in 2019[4]). 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 Park and the site of the proposed National Museum & Library 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[3] (equivalent to £18 million in 2019[4]). 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.[5]

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,[6][7][8][9] and after devolution in 1999, for the Welsh Government's civil servants and ministerial offices.[10][11][better source needed]


Key to heritage status
Status Criteria[12]
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 W. D. Caröe 1895
Biosciences and Tower Building No listing Dale Owen / Percy Thomas Partnership 1968
Bute Building II Percy Thomas and Ivor Jones 1916
Cardiff Central Police Station No listing John Dryburgh 1968
Cardiff Crown Court I Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards 1906
Cardiff Law School No listing 1963
Cardiff University main building II* W. D. Caröe 1905
City Hall I Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards 1906
Cathays Park 1
(part of the Crown Buildings complex)
II P. K. Hanton 1938
Cathays Park 2
(part of the Crown Buildings complex)
No listing Alex Gordon 1979
Glamorgan Building
(former Glamorgan County Council building)
I Vincent Harris and Thomas Anderson Moodie 1912
Hut in Gorsedd Gardens II Not known
National Museum and Gallery of Wales I Arnold Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer 1927
Public conveniences on Museum Avenue II Early
20th century
Redwood Building
(Welsh School of Pharmacy)
No listing Sir Percy Thomas & Son 1961
Temple of Peace II Percy Thomas 1938
University of Wales, Registry II H. W. Wills 1904
Welsh National War Memorial II* Ninian Comper 1928


Cathays Park gardens
Official nameCathays Park (Alexandra Gardens, Gorsedd Gardens, Friary Gardens)[13][14]
Designated1 February 2022; 22 months ago (2022-02-01)[13][14]
Reference no.PGW(Gm)26(CDF)[13][14]
ListingGrade II[13][14]

In addition to the large lawn in front of the City Hall, Cathays Park includes three formal gardens and a tree lined park. Main phases of construction of the gardens were from 1903 to 1906 and from 1924 to 1928.[13] The gardens are grade II on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales.[13] 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.

Formal gardens and tree-lined park in Cathays Park
Alexandra Gardens with the Welsh National War Memorial in the background
Gorsedd Gardens
Friary Gardens with a statue of the 3rd Marquess of Bute to the right
The tree-lined Queen Anne Square

Alexandra Gardens[edit]

Named after Alexandra of Denmark, the queen consort of Edward VII. The gardens were first called University Gardens, and were laid out and planted in 1903.[13] Alexandra Gardens is 5 acres (2.0 ha) garden located at the heart of the civic centre.[13] It consists of maintained flower beds and grass, with the Welsh National War Memorial standing at its centre.[13] Alexandra Gardens has been protected since September 2019 as a Centenary Fields, which is a Fields in Trust scheme together with the Royal British Legion, which protects green spaces containing a war memorial that honours the memory of the those that lost their lives in World War 1.[15][16]

Gorsedd Gardens[edit]

The garden was originally known as Druidical Gardens, but the name Gorsedd Gardens was later adopted. The 2 acres (0.81 ha) garden has as its centrepiece a stone circle constructed in 1899,[13] when the National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in Cardiff. The stones were originally erected elsewhere in Cathays Park for the National Eisteddfod of 1899.[13] They were re-erected in the garden in 1905.[13] The garden's name refers to the Gorsedd of Welsh Bards, the ceremonial order that governs the Eisteddfod. Work on the landscaped gardens began in 1904 and opened to the public in 1910.[13] It is laid out with lawns, and tree and shrub borders and hedges.[13] The gardens has statues of subjects including David Lloyd George and Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart.

Friary Gardens[edit]

The 1 acre (0.40 ha) garden is a style of formal garden formerly known as a Dutch Garden.[13] It was begun in 1904 and completed in 1906.[13] It contains a statue constructed in honour of the 3rd Marquess of Bute by James Pittendrigh Macgillivray and erected in 1928.[13]

Queen Anne Square[edit]

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.[17] 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.


Name Sculptor Date Listed statues status Image
Statue of Third Marquess of Bute James Pittendrigh Macgillivray Early 20th century II
Statue of John Cory Goscombe John 1906 II
Statue of Lord Aberdare Herbert Hampton 1898 II
Statue of Lord Ninian Edward Crichton Stuart Goscombe John 1917 II
Statue of David Lloyd George Michael Rizzello 1960 II
Statue of Godfrey, First Viscount Tredegar Goscombe John 1909 II
Statue of Judge Gwilym Williams of Miskin Goscombe John c. 1906 II
South African War Memorial
also known as the Boer War Memorial
Albert Toft 1909 II*
Statue of Girl in Gorsedd Gardens Robert Thomas 2005 No listing
Three Obliques (Walk In)
Sculpture in forecourt of Department of Music, Cardiff University
Dame Barbara Hepworth 1968 II
Relief Sculpture on Redwood Building Edward Bainbridge Copnall 1961 No listing

Memorial stones[edit]

Gates, colonnades and obelisks[edit]

Official listed name Listing status Image
University of Wales, Cardiff, including Forecourt Walls II*
Colonnade and gateways at south end of Queen Anne Square II
Pair of Obelisk Lamp Stands to west of City Hall
Pair of Obelisk Lamp Stands to south west of City Hall
Pair of Obelisk Lamp Stands to south east of City Hall


  1. ^ Taffy (13 May 2007). "Cardiff Civic Centre – Cathays Park". BIG Cardiff. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  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. ^ a b United Kingdom Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth "consistent series" supplied in Thomas, Ryland; Williamson, Samuel H. (2018). "What Was the U.K. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  5. ^ Brian Lee (30 January 2015). "Cardiff Remembered: When tigers, lions and crocodiles patrolled the city at 1896 exhibition – Wales Online". Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Rural Communities in Wales (Hansard, 4 June 1985)". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  7. ^ "WALES (Hansard, 22 April 1969)". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  9. ^ "Public Accounts (Hansard, 28 October 1992)". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  10. ^ Powys, Betsan (24 May 2011). "The art of delivering delivery". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  11. ^ Andrews, Leighton. "Governing Wales – hidden wiring and emerging cultural practice" (PDF). Governing Wales.
  12. ^ Listed Buildings, English Heritage, archived from the original on 9 December 2012, retrieved 22 April 2011
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Cadw. "Cathays Park (PGW(Gm)26(CDF))". National Historic Assets of Wales. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  14. ^ a b c d "Cadw/ICOMOS Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales - Cathays Park" (PDF). Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 June 2022. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  15. ^ "Fields We Protect - Alexandra Gardens". Fields in Trust. Retrieved 4 June 2023.
  16. ^ "Two Cardiff Parks to become protected 'Centenary Fields'". Cardiff Council. Retrieved 4 June 2023.
  17. ^ "Colonnade and gateways at S end of Queen Anne Square". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 12 December 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Cathays Park at Wikimedia Commons