Cardiff – capital of Wales?

What is the capital of Wales? W?

No points and certainly no prizes if you put forward that answer. Hopefully, everyone reading this blog would know (or at least guess) it is Cardiff.

But did you know that Cardiff was only made the capital of Wales as recently as 1955? So where was the Welsh capital six decades ago? And what made them choose Cardiff in the 50s?

Wales did not have an official capital before 1955. There were a number of places that had a claim to this title – St. David’s (as an ecclesiastical centre and home of Wales’s first cathedral), Carnarvon (the site of the investiture of the Prince of Wales), Aberystwyth (as a neutral, middle town boasting the National Library of Wales) or Machynlleth (seat of Owain Glyndŵr’s Welsh Parliament in 1404). Much political wrangling ensued,with debates in Parliament over which town should have the honour.

In the end, and to decide the matter, an official ballot was organised between the members of the Welsh local authorities.  The results, declared on July 2, 1954, found that Cardiff had won 136 votes, Caernarfon took just 11 and Aberystwyth had only four. Local authorities representing more than two million people (around 85% of the Principality’s total population) had opted for Cardiff. Cardiff’s position was finally confirmed in a written statement to the House of Commons by the Minister for Welsh Affairs Gwilym Lloyd George, son of David Lloyd George, on Tuesday 20 December 1955.

Caernarfon would remain a key centre for the north of Wales, and would have its pride somewhat restored by hosting the royal investiture of Prince Charles on 1 July 1969.

This is another little gem from BBC 2’s excellent Great British Railway Journeys. Portillo visited Cardiff and surveyed the changes that brought it from a pre-industrial town of under 7,000 in 1800 to the manufacturing and transportation city of 170,000 in 1900 to the administrative and service orientated capital of 292,000 in 2000.

Now boasting a population of 300,000 (and just under one million in Cardiff’s ‘larger urban zone’ (861,400 in 2007 – 2009), home to Wales’s law giving National Assembly and Wales’s main media and transportation hub, Cardiff’s position as capital is unassailable.

4 Replies to “Cardiff – capital of Wales?”

  1. Intriguingly, in a 1943 training film for US soldiers on ‘How to Behave in Britain’, there is a scene in which a ‘Mr Chips’ character asks his class ‘What is the Capital of Wales?’ The answer comes back…Aberystwyth. The teacher replies ‘You are Right’. I suppose this view was based on the presence of the senior college of the University of Wales and, of course, the recently-opened National Library. Readers can watch the whole 38-minute film on YouTube. It well repays the effort, as it is replete with historical idiosyncrasies from a time long ago.

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for leaving a message.

      I did quote the figures correctly – is it the BBC and Caernarfon Herald sources that are wrong then?

      The figures you are putting forward might be the ones from the 1924 ballot of Welsh local authorities, when, according to the BBC’s article, Cardiff received 76 votes to Caernarfon’s 42.

      In 1954, an official ballot of Welsh authorities was carried out again, this time yielding the figures quoted in the post: Cardiff 136, Caernarfon 11. Again – this is entirely reliant on the BBC article, backed by the Caernarfon Herald so, if these sources are wrong, then my use of them will also be wrong.

      I’ll happily correct them if they are wrong, but can’t find any other figures.

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