One of the main reasons for writing Adventures with Alfie is so that when he has grown up we can sit down together and read through them and he can learn about the wonderful place where he grew up and know that he had grandfather who loved sharing time with him and wanted him to know that he was loved more than words could ever say.
When he is older, he may not be living anywhere near Cardiff but wherever he is, he can sit with his own children and teach them about his heritage. This is part of my legacy for my dear grandson Alfie Jay!
Alfie arrived at our place early on Thursday evening looking very much like Matilda’s dad – but only in looks – with a straw trilby perched on his head. He looked fantastic, really smart and ready to go adventuring, although he still had quite a while before we could see what this Friday brought.
He was up bright and early and smiling the next day and the dear lady of the house assumed responsibility for his bath and preparation for the day. By the time came for her to go off to earn and honest shilling, we were all ready for another great day.
When I was putty Alfie in the car, one of the dear lady’s ‘girls’ sneaked into the car and hid under my seat. Time was tight so we left her there while I took the good lady to her place of employment. As I did so, Tilly, the quieter one of the Yappie and Scrappie double act crept out from under my seat and cuddled up to Alfie in his car seat. It looked very cute indeed, a little boy and a little dog, enjoying the trip as friends together.
Tilly didn’t move all journey and Alfie loved having a new little travelling companion.
When we got home Alfie had time for a play before we left. He chose the little pink pushchair he had enjoyed the week before and had loads of fun. I half expected him to sit Tilly in the pushchair… I am sure the day will come…
We had planned the day in advance, breakfast down The Bay followed by the Cardiff Centenary Walk around the city. This was due to be part of Alfie’s legacy from me. Alfie is a boy who is Cardiff born and Cardiff bred.
We arrived in The Bay nice and early and found a car park in our usual spot near The Coal Exchange. We bought our ‘first hour free’ ticket and the paid for an additional six hours before making for Subway for our £2 breakfast of egg and bacon 6-inch sub and a cup of tea. Lovely stuff!!
When we got there the place was full of workmen all dressed in yellow hi-viz vests. I felt like we were on a cross between the set of Auf Weidersehen Pet and a gig practice for The Village People. All these workers were messing round and enjoying the tea break I presume! Usually the place is empty and Alfie and I have a quiet time together. Today was different.
As we left we were greeted by the shouts of the guy touting for rides around The Bay on his little boat. I saluted and called him captain. We had done that trip last time so we headed for the train. We had intended taking the train up to town; it’s a funny one-carriage shuttle that runs every twelve minutes connecting The Bay and the City Centre, but then I had the idea of taking Alfie on a Bendy Bus instead. That would be great fun…so we did. Alfie loved it… and so did I… and it was free!
We got to town in no time and set about the Cardiff Centenary Walk, a gruelling 2.3 miles lay ahead. I was worried that travelling all that way might wear down the tyres of the Lady of the House’s still quite new pushchair. I had visions of her bringing out a tyre tred depth measurer when we got home. But it still had to be done. This was part of Alfie’s legacy from me and I hoped the Cardiff Centenary Walk would be a great way to explore the city centre on foot, and find out more about how Cardiff became the city it is today.
The Centenary Walk takes in some of Cardiff’s most celebrated and historic landmarks, as well as some well-kept secrets.
The walk began at The Old Library, just near Howells.
This building opened in 1882 as a “Free Library, Museum and School of Arts”. The Welsh inscription high up on the south end of the building means, “He will not be wise who will not read”. Alfie…. take note!
As I looked back at the building from the next stopping point I noticed that the building isn’t quite symmetrical. Part of it was demolished to allow the road to be widened for traffic.
We walked through St John’s churchyard next and as you walk along the churchyard path you can see the brass numbers on the pavement, which mark family burial plots. I always thought this was spooky when I was a kid and we always jumped over them, thinking it was bad luck to step on a number.
St John’s Church is where my dad and mum got married just after the war. This is the oldest church in the city centre and apart from parts of Cardiff Castle is said to be the oldest building in Cardiff still in constant use. It was founded at the end of the 12th century and rebuilt in the perpendicular style in the 15th century.
After the 1607 floods, which destroyed the original parish church of St Mary’s, St John’s became the town’s principal church.
Inside you can see a memorial to Sir John Herbert, private Secretary to Elizabeth I and James I, and his brother Sir William Herbert, deputy lieutenant of Glamorgan and one of the leaders of gang warfare that dominated pre-Elizabethan Cardiff. The beautiful stained glass includes pieces by William Morris, Ford Maddox Brown and Edward Burne Jones.
From here we walked to Cardiff market.
The Market was built by Solomon Andrews, a local entrepreneur, and became known as Solomon’s Temple. Ashton’s Fishmongers, just inside the entrance, was one of the original 349 traders when it opened in 1891 and it’s still my favourite even today. The market is partly on the site of the old County Jail and the gallows stood at the far end. This is where Dic Penderyn was publicly hanged on 13th August 1831 for his alleged part in the riots in Merthyr over working conditions.
The Market has a galleried hall with cast iron and glass roof and a decorated clock tower in the centre. Some of the stalls have their original cast iron numbers.
Next we walked down Church Street starting with the Owain Glyndwr pub. This is one of the oldest inn sites in Cardiff, first occupied in 1731. It was once called The Tennis Court, after the real tennis court that was behind it. High Street
As we walked down Church Street, alongside the Old Arcade pub is an alleyway called the Old Arcade, which is one of Cardiff’s oldest arcades. The arcade and pub date from the construction of a market in 1835, which was replaced in 1891 by the present one.
On the right, the distinctive first floor windows of the white buildings at 3 and 4 Church Street date from 1829.
The building was a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, built on the site of the first Wesleyan meeting room in Cardiff. John Wesley would have preached here and records in his diary for 6th May 1743 “I preached at eleven in the new room which the Society has built in the heart of the town; and our souls were sweetly comforted together.”
At the end of Church Street Alfie and I came to the junction with St Mary Street and High Street, this was the most important part of the medieval town. On the left is St Mary Street, named after the principal church of medieval Cardiff. St Mary Street is an almost complete Victorian townscape, and the narrow frontages reflect the medieval burgage plots.
The cream-coloured building on the corner of Church Street and St Mary Street was built for the Richards family. The house was originally called The Corner House and the building represents almost the last survivor of the 18th century town. It’s a Greggs Shop today. Alfie and I were tempted but we carried on, there was a long way to go!
On our right was High Street, the principal street of the medieval borough. From 1337 until the 1850s three successive guildhalls stood here until a new town hall opened in St Mary Street. The first floors of the guildhalls were used as a courtroom and a meeting place for the people running the town’s affairs, while the ground floor was used as a market.
Over the road we saw the NatWest Bank, which was built in 1880 for the National Provincial Bank. It has a fine Italianate façade with an arcaded ground floor and pedimented first floor windows.
We crossed the road into Quay Street. Just here is a little café where my dad and mum would often enjoy faggots and peas together.
This road got its name in the days when it led down to the town quay on the River Taff.
Half way down Quay Street we met Womanby Street The earliest known form of the name, from 1270, is Hundmanby – possibly meaning “the dwelling of the houndsman”.
As we walked up the street a little way you can look through the archway on the right and see some old cottages. Jones Court was built in the 1830s as workers’ cottages and is now the last of the 50 or so 19th century housing courts in Cardiff. The houses had just two rooms and there was no water supply or drainage so they were perfect breeding grounds for disease. 396 Cardiffians died in a cholera outbreak in 1849.
We walked on and came out near the Angel Hotel. Rugby fans around the world know the Angel Hotel, because it’s so close to the home of Welsh rugby it became the traditional place to congregate before international matches.
There have been several Angel Taverns on or near this site over the years. During World War One it became the USS Chattanooga when the US Navy took it over.
Next to the Angel Hotel, just across Westgate Street is the Millennium Stadium. Westgate Street runs along what was the course of the River Taff. The great 19th century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was building his Great Western Railway westwards but the long curve of the river made a rail crossing difficult. So with the agreement of the Bute family, who owned the land, work began to divert the river in 1849 so that a short railway bridge could be built. That bridge still stands today.
This left a huge area of reclaimed land, which the 3rd Marquess of Bute allowed to be used for sport. The area was originally called the Great Park but became known as Cardiff Arms Park, after a nearby coaching inn.
The first organised sport here was cricket. Cardiff Football Club, later Cardiff Rugby Football Club, was formed in 1876 and held its first practice here. Tennis, hockey, bowls and even greyhound racing have taken place here.
The Millennium Stadium was built on the site of the former Cardiff Arms Park stadium in time to stage the 1999 Rugby World Cup Final, although the pitch was turned around by 45 degrees.
It is now one of the most famous stadia in the world. It is the home of Welsh rugby union and many of the national football team’s matches are played here too. Among the Stadium’s unusual features are a retractable roof, which takes about 20 minutes to open or close, and a removable pitch which means the Stadium can stage all sorts of other events, such as speedway, concerts and exhibitions, whatever the weather.
On the other end of Westgate Street you can see the stands of today’s Cardiff Arms Park stadium, which dates from 1967. Until then there was only one stadium here, which was shared by Cardiff Rugby Football Club and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). Today the smaller ground is the home of Cardiff RFC and the Cardiff Blues.
In the early 1930s the WRU built a new stand, possibly without consulting the 4th Marquess of Bute. It’s said that he was so angry that his view from the Castle to Penarth was blocked that he built the flats on Westgate Street in order to spoil the eastern aspect of the stadium.
The stand was bombed during World War Two but the stadium was rebuilt and the view to Penarth was gone for good.
Alfie and I then headed across the road towards the Castle. The wall opposite has got several hand-carved stone animals perched on it – not all indigenous to Cardiff!
The wall was designed by architect William Burges in 1866, though not built until 1890, and it was originally in front of the Castle. In 1925 the wall was moved to its present position when the road was widened.
At the end of the wall we could see the site of the West Gate of the old town wall. Owain Glyndwr, who led a famous Welsh revolt against the English Crown, broke through here with his troops to capture the Castle in 1404. The West Gate and the bridge over the moat were restored to their original design by the Marquess of Bute in 1921. Alfie let me know it was time for lunch so we went through the old West gate and into Bute Park for our lunch.
We found a bench and Alfie and I enjoyed a great little picnic.
Countless people smiled at us as they walked by, Alfie has this wonderful way of engaging with people. I am sure the folk who passed by were just returning Alfie’s smiles.
The bench we sat on was near the Waterbus stop, we could have caught Waterbus back to The Bay… that was tempting but we still had a lot of the Centenary Walk to complete.
We set off again after a charming little break and were soon passing The Castle Arcade. The six Victorian and Edwardian arcades are one of Cardiff’s most attractive and distinctive features. Castle Arcade was built around 1887 and if you go inside you can see a beautiful wooden gallery with a wooden second floor overhang and foot bridges.
Next we came to the Castle and I looked down and noticed Alfie had dropped off to sleep. I would have to continue the walk on my own. It was a tough ask!
Cardiff Castle has a long history dating back to the Romans – below the red stones you can see the original Roman wall, which was discovered during building work in 1889.
The Normans built a Keep within the Roman site, which has also been associated with Owain Glyndwr and the Earl of Warwick. In the 19th century the architect William Burges restored the main Castle apartments for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. The Castle grounds are a haven of tranquility in the city centre and the Norman Keep offers spectacular views of the city.
After the Castle we walked on to the City Hall in Cathays Park
This site of one of the most impressive civic centres in Britain. The origins of the name Cathays are not clear.
By the end of the 19th century Cardiff Corporation knew it needed land for new civic buildings. Councillor Peter Price said, “These could be arranged around a central park. If Lord Bute found it in his pleasure to sell this land for a moderate sum, we could make Cardiff one of the most beautiful towns in the country…”
There was a lot of controversy about the site the Corporation wanted, but it eventually bought Cathays Park from the Bute family for £161,000 in 1898 and plans for its development were drawn up. The Portland-stone buildings, parks and tree-lined avenues make the civic centre one of Cardiff’s most outstanding features and a world-ranking example of civic architecture.
The City Hall was designed by architects Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards this is the flagship building of the civic centre. It cost £129,000 to build and was opened in 1906 following the granting of city status to Cardiff the previous year.
The clock tower rises 60 metres, and at the top of the dome is a Welsh dragon. The interior of this building is splendid with the imposing Marble Hall connecting the domed Council Chamber and ornate Assembly Rooms. The Hall houses marble statues of 11 heroes of Wales. As we got to the City hall we noticed little tent with two telescopes. Apparently there is a Peregrine Falcon’s nest with three chicks. A peregrine is the fastest bird in the world in flight! It was great to look through the telescope and see the nest high up near one of the four clock faces.
I pushed on to the Law Courts.
The Law Courts were completed in 1904 at a cost of £96,000. The statue of Judge Gwilym Williams, “terror to malefactors”, is by Sir W Goscombe John (1860-1952), whose work can be seen across the city.
There are obelisk-style lamp stands around the Law Courts building. They were really interesting listed structures with griffin and wyvern figureheads on ships’ prows, each bearing Cardiff’s coat of arms. They are believed to have been designed and built as part of the Law Courts’ development.
The University of Wales Registry was next door.
This was the first building erected in Cathays Park, built in 1903/04. It became the administrative headquarters of the University of Wales when Cardiff Corporation offered the University a free site and peppercorn rent to secure the honour of being home to the University’s headquarters.
The style is Classical with Ionic columns at the entrance, circular windows on the upper floor, and beautifully detailed sleeping dragons by Sir W Goscombe John on the posts in front of the building.
Next door again was the Glamorganshire County Council building, which was created in 1888 and this building opened as its headquarters in 1912.
There are two sculptured groups in front of the entrance representing Mining (Minerva with miners) and Navigation (represented by Neptune in a chariot), which were both so essential to building the economy of South Wales. Today the building is part of Cardiff University.
The next building up is the Bute Building.
This building opened in 1916 as a Technical College, and is now part of Cardiff University. It’s in the form of a hollow rectangle, and the main façade is neo-Greek in style with a portico of Doric columns. The red dragon was installed in 1985.
The next building is The Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health, which opened in 1938. It was a gift from the great benefactor Lord David Davies of Llandinam to the Welsh people and dedicated to the memory of the loss of life in the First World War.
It’s an abstract classical building with simple lines, built in a T- shape. Below the Temple is the Crypt, which houses the Welsh National Book of
Next I crossed the road and went into Alexandra Gardens.
Alfie and I found the Falklands Memorial is set among six blue cedar trees, planted in memory of six Cardiff men killed in action in the 1982 Falklands Campaign.
At the centre of the Gardens is the National War Memorial, built to commemorate the men of Wales who lost their lives in the First World War. The Memorial is in the form of a sunken court containing a fountain, surrounded by a seat within a circle of Corinthian columns.
The three bronze figures of a soldier, sailor and an airman are raising wreaths towards the central figures of a winged Messenger of Victory.
The Welsh inscription on the outer frieze says “To the sons of Wales who gave their lives for their country in the war of 1914-18”. The other Welsh inscriptions are from the Welsh poets T Gwyn Jones and R Williams Parry and read “Over the sea he went to die”, “By the trench, resting” and “In the heavens hovering”.
My dad came here every year on Remembrance Sunday; I never once came with him, which I really regret now. Sometimes I wish I could turn back time!
Across the road is The University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which was formally opened in 1883 with 102 students enrolled, 15 of whom were women. In 1909 the College moved into this building, which was later extended. It is an imposing building, however some contemporary architects questioned its aesthetic quality.
Today it’s the main building of Cardiff University.
Next we strolled down to The National Museum of Wales. Cardiff faced stiff competition from Aberystwyth, Swansea and Caernarfon to be the home of the National Museum of Wales. Cardiff offered this site, along with financial support, and in June 1905 the National Museum of Wales was awarded to Cardiff (the National Library went to Aberystwyth).
King George V laid the foundation stone in 1912 and after delays caused by the First World War, the same King finally opened the Museum in 1927. Extensions to the eastern side of the building were opened in 1932.
The building was very well received, particularly the impressive entrance with its Doric style and massive bronze doors.
The building houses one of the world’s most exquisite collections of Impressionist art, as well as natural science galleries.
Opposite the Museum steps is a statue of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, by Rizzello. It was erected in 1960 as a memorial to one of the greatest international statesmen to come from Wales.
Now we headed into Gorsedd Gardens. The circle of stones is the Gorsedd circle, which had been erected elsewhere to proclaim the 1899 National Eisteddfod and moved here in 1905.
The Gorsedd of Bards is an association whose members have made a distinguished contribution to the Welsh nation, language and culture. Members include opera singer Bryn Terfel and stars from the world of sport, pop, the arts and politics. During the annual National Eisteddfod the Gorsedd conducts ceremonies to honour literary achievements amongst Welsh poets and prose writers.
Opposite the Gardens is one of the most important 19th century townhouses in Wales, which revolutionised Cardiff’s domestic architecture.
Park House was designed in French Gothic style by William Burges and built in the 1870s for John McConnochie, engineer of Cardiff’s docks. Burges’ influence can be seen across the city, from the Castle through to residential properties in the suburbs.
We were on our way to the New Theatre now and my legs were getting tired. My breakfast sub seemed a long way away!!
This traditional Edwardian theatre by Runtz & Ford opened in 1906, with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and His Majesty’s Theatre Company performing Twelfth Night. The theatre is rumoured to have a friendly ghost known as The Grey Lady.
Nearby is the Park Hotel, now part of a hotel chain. It was built in 1885 in a French Renaissance style and was the brainchild of shop owner James Howell, who insisted that commercial travellers who wanted to do business with him had to stay in the Park. The original complex also included two public halls, a coffee house and ten shops.
After this we went down Charles Street, at the side of Marks and Spencer. Charles Street was built from the 1850s onwards and was one of the most fashionable streets in Cardiff.
Here we found a cathedral. In the 19th century the number of Catholics increased dramatically with the influx of Irish immigrants who came to work in the docks and in 1888 St David’s Cathedral opened as Cardiff’s main Catholic church.
It was built by the architectural firm of Pugin and Pugin in rock faced pennant sandstone dressed with red sandstone, and became a cathedral in 1916.
The Cathedral was bombed during the Second World War but following extensive restoration it re-opened in 1959.
The building opposite was Ebenezer Chapel, which opened in 1855 and from1976to2011was a Welsh language chapel. The multicoloured stonework is a mix of stone from all over the world, brought back as ballast by ships returning to Cardiff. The architect, RG Thomas, is said to have written to every head of state in the world requesting a stone to place in the façade.
His idea was to have a stone representing every nation as a symbol of God’s universal power. That’s a pretty cool story!
After looking at the chapel we cut through to The Hayes.
The building on the right hand corner opposite the statue, used to be the Fish Market. It opened in 1901 and sold fish brought in to Cardiff by the Neale and West fishing fleet.
Between 1936 and 1937 it was converted into Electricity Showrooms and Offices. Cardiff has had an electric supply since 1894, and was one of the first municipalities to adopt electric street lighting.
The interior of the building, particularly on the top floor, still has many original features.
Outside was a statue, which always has something, happening to it, whether it be seagulls or traffic cones!. John Batchelor was a radical reformer who was Mayor of Cardiff in 1853. His achievements included a new drainage and sewerage system, which helped combat the frequent cholera outbreaks.
The building opposite was the David Morgan department store. David Morgan was born in Brecon, some 50 miles north of Cardiff, and opened his landmark store in 1879. He believed in no bargaining, no discounts and no sales and over the next 125 years the store gained a reputation for good value for money and quality products with exemplary customer service. The store remained in the hands of the direct descendants of David Morgan until it closed in early 2005.
The mum of the lady of the house loved to go to David Morgan’s for lunch every single time she was in Cardiff. It was a special place!
We strolled on reflecting on many hours and pounds spent in that great shop. We soon reached Tabernacle Chapel
The first television programme broadcast entirely in Welsh, a religious service, was transmitted from here on St David’s Day in 1953.
The shop next door but one was Spillers Records. Founded in 1894, it specialised in phonographs, wax phonograph cylinders and shellac phonograph discs. Spillers is now in the Morgan Arcade and claims to be the oldest record shop in the world.
We then strolled down Caroline Street, passed The Old Brewery. When I was younger the smell of hops was strong all across this end of town
Ale has been brewed in Cardiff for centuries. In 1340 two tasters were appointed, whose jobs were to keep a check on the price of ale and test its quality. In 1855 there were seven breweries in the centre of Cardiff. The Brains brewery was the last of these.
Brains beer is one of Cardiff’s great traditions. Samuel Arthur (SA) Brain founded the company in 1882 and bought this site, now called The Old Brewery, with his uncle. The company has remained in the family ever since.
Beer was brewed here from 1713, taking advantage of the natural well, right up until 1999. Today Brains is brewed on a site just south of the city centre.
Near The Old Brewery is a REAL Cardiff traditions which sadly is not in the Cardiff Centenary Walk but jolly well should be….
We turned right into St Mary Street and passed The Royal Arcade and on the opposite corner, The Royal Hotel.
The Royal Arcade is the oldest of Cardiff’s shopping arcades, dating from 1858.
Alfie slept on!
Over the road from the arcade is the Royal Hotel. This is where Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party of explorers dined on the eve of their departure from Cardiff in June 1910, on their ill-fated expedition to be first to reach the South Pole. The party reached the Pole in January 1912 only to discover that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them by a month. Scott and the four colleagues who made the final push to the Pole died on the journey back to their ship. It’s thought that the tower of the hotel was once the tallest habitable building in Cardiff.
Next stop was The Morgan Arcade!
This is the best preserved of Cardiff’s Victorian arcades, built in 1896. It’s worth going in to see the first floor Venetian windows and the original slender wooden shop fronts. It was so impressive to look up the arcade from St Mary Street!
We were soon outside The House of Fraser store but to all real Cardiff people it will always be Howells!!
This building was built for James Howell, a draper who moved his business here in 1867. Until 1843 part of the site had been used as barracks. The store incorporates the Bethany Baptist Chapel, which dates from 1865 and was sold to Howell’s store in 1964. You can see what’s left of the façade in the menswear department. A bronze plaque on the chapel façade commemorates Rawlings White who was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1555.
In January 1943, during World War Two, a section of Howell’s store was commandeered to ensure that production of parachutes and barrage balloons was not interrupted after a serious fire destroyed the main manufacturing centre in Cardiff docks.
We strolled up Wharton Street and reached The Hayes.
The name Hayes is probably derived from the ancient word for land enclosed by a hedge. Local people were granted areas of land called burgages – sometimes known as heys – in medieval times and there were still vegetable gardens here until the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century the area had became a fashionable shopping area. The Hayes Island Snack Bar, a famous Cardiff landmark, was built in 1911 as the Tramway Parcel Express Office. It was the scene of the notorious Seagull/bacon roll incident, which will remain in my mind forever!!
I sat down here to rest my weary feet, the walk completed. Alfie now decided to wake up! After a short break we made for the Bendy Bus and the trip back to our car!
On the way back home we stopped off at Pets at Home, we had one more job to do… buy some goldfish for the pond at home. The terrapins have woken up from hibernation and the pond needs to be got ready for the summer!
Alfie loved the pets and chose three shubunkins, which we took home and after letting the fish get used to the temperature, we let them go. It was great fun.
When Alfie’s dad came, he left happily after a great days adventuring.