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5 Lesser Known Statues & Sculptures of Cardiff

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Cardiff is a city full of statues, sculptures, memorials and modern art. We have statues of Cardiff’s influential business figures of the 19th century scattered throughout Cathays, and of influential politicians like John Batchelor, David Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan within a five minute walk of one another in the heart of central Cardiff. There are memorials dedicated to the World Wars, the Falkland Islands conflict, the War in South Africa and Spanish Civil War, as well as modern art on Kingsway, Queen St and The Hayes to name a few. That’s all without even mentioning the statues of City Hall,'s Marble Hall of the likes of St. David, Henry VII and Owain Glyndwr.

Many of these statues and sculptures have been sitting around the city for generations already, and most of us walk past them daily without giving them much thought. In fact, having conducted tours around Cardiff over the last two years or so to thousands of people from around the world, it’s still surprising how little people ask about the monuments and statues that aren’t already covered across the tours. For example, any given tour of Cardiff city centre will likely feature the Welsh National War Memorial, or, of course, John Batchelor, because that’s where the Cardiff tour starts, but we walk past the likes of Lord Ninian Crichton Stuart and Nereid every day, yet nobody ever asks about them for some unknown reason.

Therefore, with that in mind, let’s today focus on some of the overlooked outdoor characters and art of Cardiff city centre, that aren’t currently fairly well known already or that we don’t already cover extensively on walking tours around the city, so we will avoid the 3rd Marquess of Bute, Batchelor, the World Wars, Bevan and the Falklands and so on. Also, Cardiff Bay, for example, will likely receive its own article, but that’s for another day.

So from north to south of central Cardiff, here are five of Cardiff's most interesting piece of publin art.

A Memorial - Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff.
Spanish Civil War Memorial

The memorials for the World Wars and the Falklands, in Alexandra Gardens, may be far grander in appearance and far more publicised as events, but the Welsh role in the Spanish Civil War is no less interesting. Between 1936 and 1939, about 200 people from Wales helped the elected Republican government fight the fascist forces of General Franco in Spain.

The Welsh contingent joined an estimated 45,000 international volunteers from 54 countries who sought to defend the Spanish government against Franco's rebel forces. More than 500,000 people ultimately died in the war, about 200,000 of them in combat, and 33 of them were from Wales.

One may be forgiven for thinking Welsh involvement came about due to some feeling of solidarity with the provinces of Catalonia or the Basque country and their independence movements, but that was not the case. It was rather the prevailing concern in Spain, Europe and Wales over the rising tide of fascism across Europe.

Spain had provided the first resistance to this surge, but the military uprising on July 16th and 17th 1936 against the democratically elected republican government in Spain led immediately to the outbreak of Civil War. Meanwhile, in south Wales the mid-1930s was characterised by resistance to mass unemployment and appeasement of the national and Conservative governments.

The response in Wales to events in Spain was largely provided by the South Wales Miners' Federation and the Communist Party, and it eventually came to be supported by a broad coalition of the Labour Party, Liberals, some Welsh writers, academics and teachers as well. Most were largely from the central valleys of the Rhondda, Cynon and Taff although there were also volunteers from the north Wales coalfield, the coastal towns of south Wales and rural areas. The 200-or-so Welsh men who volunteered to fight in Spain represented the largest regional industrial grouping within the British Battalion of the International Brigades.

Incidentally, one of the first to recognise the growing threat of fascism was Labour MP Aneurin Bevan who, as early as 1933, formed an anti-fascist workers militia, named the Tredegar Workers' Freedom Group. Bevan, of course, has one of Cardiff's most prominent statues, sitting at the intersection of Queen St, Kingsway, Castle St and John St, arguably serving as the central point of the city.

Following the bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937 and the subsequent fall of the Basque Country, support back in Wales broadened from the mainly working class Spanish Aid communities to the wider Basque Children's Refugee Communities, with the prominent support of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, as well as from leading academics, teachers and writers.

They established four Basque Children's Homes in Colwyn Bay, Brechfa, Swansea and Caerleon. The Basque children were reportedly the largest ever single influx of refugees into Britain, and they were warmly welcomed by the general public at the time.