The magnificent Edwardian City Hall is the finest building of this superb ensemble, but is actually the fifth to have served as the centre of local Government. Little is known of Cardiff’s original ‘Gild Hall’, but the second Town Hall stood in the middle of St Mary’s Street until it was replaced on the same site in the mid- eighteenth century. The fourth Town Hall, on the western side of St Mary’s Street, was built in 1853 and remained in use until the present City Hall opened in 1904.
The Civic buildings stand in Cathays Park, once the site of a short lived Georgian mansion (1812-25), built for the 1st Marquess of Bute. The Bute family sold the 59 acres to the town in 1898, for £159,000. Plans were drawn up for the new buildings, and the new Town Hall (Cardiff was not yet a City) was to form its focal point.
The design is inspired by English and French Renaissance architecture, but has in addition all the presence and confidence of the Edwardian period, when Cardiff’s prosperity from the coal industry was at its height.
City Hall is dominated by the 194 foot high clock tower, and the dome is surmounted by a Welsh dragon, sculpted by HC Fehr.
The Clock Tower of City Hall is perhaps the most distinctive architectural feature of the building, bold and asymmetrical and a well-loved Cardiff landmark.
The clock frame, which contains the mechanism, is 5’10” in length and made of one solid piece of cast iron, ensuring perfect rigidity. The escapement is a three-legged ‘gravity’ design, and made of gun-metal. The time is shown on four twelve foot wide gilded dials, one on each face of the tower.
The bells themselves are cast from pure copper and tin, and each one is engraved with a motto. The hour bell, as well as the second and fourth quarter bells, have mottoes in Welsh. The first and third bells are inscribed in English.
The mottoes chosen are:
– Hour Bell “Y gwir yn erbyn y byd”
(His truth against the world)
– 1st Quarter “I mark time, dost thou?”
– 2nd Quarter “Duw a phob daioni” (God is all goodness)
– 3rd Quarter “Time conquers all and we must time obey”
– 4th Quarter “A gair Duw yn uchaf” (God’s voice on high)
Above the portico is the main window of the Council Chamber. This is flanked by groups of monumental statuary representing the sea receiving the City’s three rivers; the Taff, the Rhymney and the Ely. High on the west end of the façade is a group representing ‘Science and Education’ by D McGill. Other groups include ‘Music and Poetry’ and ‘Commerce and Industry’ by Paul Montford, and ‘Welsh Unity and Patriotism’ by Henry Poole.