Cardiff City Hall built in the French Baroque Style



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Cardiff City Hall
By David Jennings*

17 January 2010: Cathays Park in Cardiff is one of Europe’s finest Civic Centres, built in the early years of the 20th century to reflect Cardiff’s rapid development as a major city as it became, by 1900, the largest coal exporting port in the world.

Construction of the Civic Centre began in 1898, and now contains the National Museum of Wales, the University, administrative buildings of the Welsh Assembly, the Law Courts and, as its crowning glory, Cardiff City Hall.

Completed in 1904 and built in white Portland stone, this magnificent building in the French Baroque style was designed by the firm Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards after an architectural competition. The overall design includes an imposing central dome and entrance portico, with an offset 194ft (60m) bell tower. The external statuary represents the City’s three rivers, the Taff, Rhymney and Ely.

Inside, the main entrance hall has two grand staircases leading to the imposing first floor reception, appropriately called the ‘Marble Hall’, which gives access to the principal internal rooms, the Council Chamber and the Great Assembly Hall. The latter possesses three huge bronze chandeliers and has been used for banquets for Royalty and visiting Heads of State. The Council Chamber, of oak and Breccia Marble was used for a meeting of the European Council in 1998.

The Edwardian period was a time when Wales was rediscovering its history and confidence, and so the interior reception halls - especially those on the first floor - are adorned with marble statues of Welsh heroes and heroines by noted sculptors of the day. The City Hall also has a small art collection, mostly of late Victorian English painting, including some Pre-Raphaelite works by Blair Leighton and Joseph Farquharson, alongside portraits of Welsh political figures, such as Lloyd George, George Thomas and James Callaghan, and a triple portrait of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, by John Merton.

Since the reorganisation of local government in Wales in 1994, the City Hall has been the headquarters of the unitary authority responsible for all local government functions in Cardiff. It has retained the historic tradition of Lord Mayors, who are politically neutral during their year of office, acting as chairperson of council meetings, as well as representing the city at official engagements. A number of the Lord Mayors played an important role in the campaign to secure Capital City status for Cardiff, which was achieved in 1955.

* David Jennings is an independent management consultant working on policy and strategy development and stakeholder engagement, including government and business relationship management. He is an Associate of Indepen and Achill Management


Cardiff City Hall's Marble Hall now serves as a function room


Also by David Jennings
Glasgow City Hall
Dominating George Square, this impressive edifice has functioned as the headquarters of Glasgow City Council, and its preceding forms of City government, since its inauguration by Queen Victoria in 1888. Constructed between 1882 and 1888 to designs by the local Paisley-born architect, William Young, the building was intended to express the wealth, importance and confidence of the ‘Second City of the British Empire’. The building has been extended over the years and now provides some 14,000 square metres of office space and function rooms.

Architecturally, the building is an excellent example of Civic Baroque, incorporating the Italianate styles which Young had seen during time spent in Italy. Externally, the symmetrical main façade comprises a large pediment with wings and flanking towers, with a tall, central bell tower set further back. The exterior is generously decorated with reliefs and statuary by James Alexander Ewing: the central pediment decoration celebrates Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and depicts here seated amidst figures representing the countries of the United Kingdom and the British Empire. More