Cardiff’s famous animal wall stands in front of Bute Park, alongside the castle, and you will always find tourists taking pictures of it with their mobile phones.
I caught sight of the animals with their glass eyes glinting in bright sunshine on my way to the Country Fair at the end of September. Although I had my camera with me at the time I didn’t stop and it took many weeks before I managed to find another sunny day to go back.
It had to be the right time of day, too, as tall buildings opposite the wall block out the sun most of the time. I figure it may be possible to use the passage of the window of sunlight along the wall to tell the time, like a sundial. At the end of September 10am was the right time to get some good shots but the weeks passed, the sun sank lower in the sky and the clocks went back an hour to GMT for the winter.
So I had no idea what time of day was best and just decided one lunchtime in a busy mid-November week to carve out an hour to visit the wall. It was a cold day but the light was pale and golden.
I took pictures of every animal, looking at them properly for the first time. Later I learned several things I didn’t know about the wall, so I will share them with you here.
The wall was designed by the great Victorian castle designer William Burges in 1866 but he didn’t live to see it built as he died in 1881 and it didn’t see the light of day until 1890. His work was continued by his assistant William Frame, famous as designer of the magnificent red Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay.
Originally the wall had just nine sculptures, designed by Thomas Nicholls. They are a hyena, wolf, a pair of apes, seal, bear, lioness, lynx, and two lions. Wikipedia says these were painted in natural colours, although I see no evidence of this in the old photograph above. Any paint has certainly been removed now.
The whole wall was moved 50 metres in 1922, to allow widening of the road in front of the castle. Since then it has stood in front of Bute Park, named after the 3rd Marquess of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart, a famous Victorian philanthropist whose family lived at the castle.
Thomas Nicholls’ creatures, which became damaged over the decades, were repaired and had their glass eyes replaced in 2010. And here they are…
In 1931 six more sculptures were added, carved by Alexander Carrick. These are a pelican, ant-eater, a pair of raccoons, leopard, beaver and vulture. These are more stylised than the original beasts and lack the glass eyes. Here they are…
By the time I had snapped the last animal my ungloved hands were freezing, but there was still time for just a couple of shots of the castle itself…