by Evonne Wareham
The castle has a strategic position on the South Wales coast, beside the River Taff, but the development of Cardiff around it has now put it well within the city, at the end of the two main shopping streets. There are Roman remains on the site and a twelve sided, stone built Shell Keep, with a water filled moat, that began its evolution as a Norman construction, probably made of wood, but Cardiff Castle is best known as an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic. The meeting in 1865 of the Third Marquess of Bute, then the wealthiest man in the world, with architect/designer William Burges, formed a partnership that lasted for years. Lord Bute was rich. Burges was dedicated, some might say obsessive, over detail and consequently very expensive. They were both captivated by the Middle Ages. Serendipity at its finest.
The Butes were a Scottish family who used the Castle as a summer home. Under Burges’s direction it was transformed into a Medieval fairy tale – towers, and turrets, stained glass, stonework, carpentry and painting on themes from legends, chivalry, history, the zodiac, the elements, animals, fruit and flowers, insects and birds, hieroglyphics, runes …
Many rooms have themes – the Arab Room, with a golden ceiling, the Winter Smoking Room equipped with all the ‘boys’ toys’ of the day, the Nursery, with tiled murals of children’s stories. The result is amazing, or abominable, depending on your taste! As you can guess, I am a fan. The photographs barely give a flavor of the effect. The interior shots, taken without flash, for conservation reasons, can only give an impression of the colors and craftsmanship. The full impact, ‘in the flesh’ is quite stunning and a little overwhelming. The closest thing I can use for comparison are the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, who were interested in similar themes and use of color. Outside a new Clock Tower was created, decorated with figures depicting the planets. And then there is the Animal Wall, with stone statues that gaze or glare down at pedestrians going about their business in the street below. It’s a fantastic creation.
|The clock tower|
|Outer wall and Tower|
|The Tower - Burges figures of the Planets|
|Detail from the banqueting hall|
|Fireplace in the banqueting hall|
|Detail of the lavish decorations|
|Monkeys - a favorite motiff|
Evonne is a Welsh author of contemporary romantic suspense who lives just outside Cardiff. Her award winning first novel Never Coming Home will be available in paperback in the US in March, to be followed by Out of Sight Out of Mind, a paranormal romantic thriller, in May. Evonne will be attending the RT Booklovers Convention in Kansas City in May 2013.
NOTES ON THE PHOTOS
The Castle buildings are within extensive grounds, surrounded by a high stone wall. Once through the entrance gate the Keep is straight ahead. The main building – the family residence – is off to the left. Within the building, the Banqueting Hall is the largest room. The Animal Wall is outside the Castle walls and the Clock Tower is visible from the street.