09 October 2015

Cardiff’s Animal Wall

To say that the 3rd Marquess of Bute was an animal lover is something of an understatement.

Not only did he introduce mammals like kangaroos and wallabies to his Isle of Bute, in Scotland, he also populated with a myriad of carved, sculpted and painted animals the palatial rooms he redecorated in Cardiff Castle (one example below) and he had a wall outside the castle adorned with stone-carved animals.

Luckily for us, his eccentricity means we can today still enjoy the nine creatures that sat atop his original Animal Wall, as well as the six additional animals that were added some forty years later, though the wall itself has moved from its original location.

‘From the southeast, Cardiff Castle, Wales’, between c.1890-1900, LC-DIG-ppmsc-07387,
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington.

The Animal Wall was designed by architect William Burges in 1866 but he passed away before it could be built. It was another architect, Burges's former assistant William Frame, who saw the project through to its completion in 1892, at which time the wall ran along the edge of the aptly named Castle Street, immediately in front of Cardiff Castle. The nine original animals were sculpted by Thomas Nicholls – they are a pair of apes, a bear, a hyena, two separate lions holding shields, a lioness, a lynx, a seal and a wolf. They have glass eyes, which mean some of them have a tendency to stare down rather menacingly at passers-by, and they were originally painted in naturalistic colours, though that paint has since been removed.

The bear is my favourite.

The hyena

In 1922, when the authorities decided to widen the road in front of the Castle, the wall was moved to its present location, just fifty metres along the road to the west, where it functions as a road frontage and boundary wall for Bute Park.

The extra six animals, sculpted by Alexander Carrick, were added to the menagerie in 1931. These – an anteater, a beaver, a leopard, a pelican, a pair of raccoons and a vulture – are different in style to the originals, a little more chunky and less lifelike, in my opinion, and they also lack the glass eyes.

The leopard

The two lions and the lioness

The lynx

Most fortunate of all, the whole wall somehow escaped the Cardiff Council planners’ demolition plans in the 1970s. What a catastrophe that would have been! As the signboard by the wall proudly declares,

the Animal Wall is one of the most delightful and photographed historic features in Cardiff. … [It] has inspired several literary works, most famously a story by Dorothy Howard Rowlands, which was serialised in the South Wales Echo and Express from 1933 and was enormously popular with a whole generation of children. Characters included William the seal, Priscilla the pelican, Martha and Oscar the monkeys, Larry the lynx and Romulus and Remus the two lions.

The anteater and the apes

The raccoons

By the start of the 21st century, the animals were showing their age (and the anteater was missing his nose!) so, as part of a £5.6 million refurbishment of Bute Park, the wall and its animals were comprehensively repaired and restored, though I notice the wolf has already lost one of his ears. Let’s hope the animals manage to survive another hundred years so they can delight animal-lovers old and young for generations to come.

The beaver

The pelican

The seal and the vulture

The one-eared wolf

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