The Animal Wall at Cardiff Castle, Wales
Lifelike Stone Carvings
The animal wall is a little-known treasure in the center of Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. Beloved by generations of children, the stone wall is found next to Cardiff Castle’s colorful clock tower. At this unique attraction, you will find a dozen different exotic species depicted. The carved stone animals are very realistic, and it is easy to imagine them coming to life. There is a good chance some of them will claw their way into your heart.
Stone Animal Wall, Cardiff, Wales, UK
The stone animal wall is on one of the busiest streets of Cardiff, the capital of Wales.
A Fairytale Existence
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a Marquess who was rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. He earned more in a minute than most people could amass in a lifetime. He was literally the richest man in the world. John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute inherited his wealth and title in 1848 when he was just six months old.
The Bute family seat was (and still is) in Scotland, but much of the revenue that filled the family’s coffers came from the South Wales coalfield. The Marquess of Bute owned coalfields, iron and steel foundries, and most importantly of all, Cardiff Docks. These docks were the only ones at the time large enough to be able to handle large coal-exporting ships.
As he had no need to work for a living, the Marquess had a lot of spare time. The ruins of Cardiff Castle had been acquired by the Bute family through marriage. Using his Welsh business interests as an excuse to spend time in the region, John Patrick set about restoring the castle. Money was no object, so he employed the most fashionable architect of his day, William Burges, to create a fantasy fairytale of a castle. The result was a fabulous Victorian Gothic confection. Every part of the building was lavishly decorated, including the stone perimeter wall.
Exotic Creatures Welcome Visitors
The 3rd Marquess was a great traveler and avid reader. The castle’s decorations reflect his interest in science and literature, languages and history. Like many wealthy Victorians he liked to display his knowledge of the exotic and unusual. The animal wall was conceived as a decoration at the front of the property so that people would see it as they entered. It was originally located directly beneath the clock tower, but it was moved 100 yards away after the First World War to accommodate road widening.
Menagerie of Stone Beasts
None of the carved animals depicted on the wall are native to the UK. Instead they all come from (what were to the Victorians) far-away, mysterious places.
There are lions are in the Bute family’s crest of arms to symbolize bravery. The first two stone animals are therefore lions holding the family’s shield. There was originally one lion on each side of the garden entrance gate but they have been relocated and are now side-by-side.
Although designed by William Burges, the carvings were not completed until after his death. The first nine animals were finished in 1891 by master stonemason Thomas Nicholls. These include the two shield-bearing lions mentioned above. The other animals are as follows; a lioness, two apes and a hyena to represent the continent of Africa, a lynx for the Americas, a bear for Europe, and a seal for the polar regions.
Iconic Display of Stone Animals
The last six animals were added when the wall was moved in 1922. The sculptor was Alexander Carrick. These are as follows; a vulture to represent Asia, a beaver, a pelican and a pair of racoons for North America, a leopard for Africa, and an anteater for South America.
Author Roald Dahl Was Born in Wales
The children’s writer Roald Dahl comes from Cardiff. In September 2016, the city celebrated the 100th anniversary of his birth. The party‘s theme was “Cardiff, City of the Unexpected” and the stone sculptures came alive. You can watch what happened to the castle’s wall of animals in the video below.
The Animal Wall Comes Alive
Who Owns the Castle Wall Today?
The Bute family had a huge influence on the way Cardiff grew. Their investment in heavy industry further along the Welsh coast enabled the city to become the thriving commercial center that it is today.
Cardiff Castle was never more than a holiday home for the 3rd Marquess. He and his family spent most of their time in Scotland. His son, the 4th Marquess, had no children and on his death in 1957, the family gifted the castle and surrounding parkland to the City of Cardiff in lieu of paying death duties (a federal tax). It is now owned and managed by the local council on a commercial basis. Thousands of tourists visit every year and their entry tickets help towards the huge maintenance costs.
The animal wall is on one of the main thoroughfares in the city center. Anyone passing can view it for nothing. You can continue your walk through the adjacent Bute Park also for no charge. As a result of the Bute family’s bequest of land in the middle of an urban area, Cardiff is one of the greenest cities in the UK. By that I mean it has an enviable amount of parkland in relation to buildings within its boundaries.
The video below shows the animal wall carvings in context by the castle. It also shows the intricate and expensive interior of the castle made possible by combining William Burges’ skill with the wealth of the 3rd Marquess of Bute.