My United Kingdom: Cardiff

Anna Walker

Three Cardiff residents talk us through the reasons why the city means so much to them. 

"In Cardiff, with the roof closed against a good Welsh team, the noise is impossible to ignore. the Welsh undoubtedly possess some of the most passionate fans in the world." - England rugby player, James Haskell

cardiff skyline

The Welsh capital city, Cardiff, is renowned the world over for its rugby, castle and miles of traditional shopping arcades. It also has a reputation as an extremely friendly city, the centre point of the renowned Welsh hospitality.

Incredibly, Cardiff was just a small town up until the early 19th century, when its role as a port for the Welsh coal industry propelled its rise to major city status—it was officially declared as such in 1905, becoming the capital of Wales in 1955. Since the 1980s, the city has undergone major developments, resulting in the huge Principality Stadium, BBC Drama Village and Wales Millennium Centre.

Despite these continual shifts in the appearance of Cardiff, at its core, it remains a cosmopolitan, sociable city which deeply honours its roots and traditions. And its residents are always ready to welcome an outsider—especially if they have the opportunity to thrash them on the rugby pitch.

Read more: How to spend 48 hours in Cardiff

Hatts Emporium owners Stuart and Levi

Stuart Talbot, 45, has lived in Cardiff his whole life and his son Levi, 27, was born in the city. Together they run the vintage gentleman’s outfitters, Hatts Emporium, in Cardiff Market

Stuart: I was born and bred in Cardiff and I could never leave. As a young man, you dream of travelling the world and living your life in a tropical paradise, but as you get older you realise that roots run deep and love binds you.

I love the people of Cardiff. I always feel proud when visitors comment on how warm Cardiffians are. It’s true that the whole of Wales is a very friendly place, but Cardiff is so cosmopolitan that it brings the best of people to one place. The spirit of Cardiff lives through its people—warm and welcoming and always offering a friendly word and a cup of tea to anyone who may need it.

cardiff indoor market

Cardiff has changed quite a bit during my life—the town has expanded upwards as well as out and everything seems quicker and newer. When I was little, the market was such an adventure, nothing like it anywhere else. There were puppies, rabbits, monkeys and any produce you can think of. Over time, big shopping malls and supermarkets have come to the city bringing people from all walks of life with them, but it’s still kept its soul which is quite a feat in this day and age.

Our business began out of necessity. My mum had Alzheimer's and I’d been looking after her at mine for a few years. My wife had left and I found myself caring for my mum and young son at home. 

"It still has a real market atmosphere, full of exciting sounds and smells"

Then, Levi came back from uni and could see things needed to change. He decided to open a business that would enable us to pay our way and also give us the freedom to care for my mum, trading in something we know about and feel passionate about. Over the years Hatts has organically grown into the business it is so it hasn’t really changed with the city—it more or less evolved with the city. We listen to our customers, then we serve them to the best of our abilities.

market

Cardiff market is super special—the architecture, the history, the fact that all of the steel beams were shipped to America to be drilled and then shipped back in order to be installed, a feat that shows this was something to be marvelled at when first constructed. It's the centrepiece of Cardiff, full of diverse and wonderful people selling absolutely everything you can think of. It still has a real market atmosphere, full of exciting sounds and smells. If you visit, be sure to look out for the clock tower. When I was little, my dad told me that the Lord Mayor lived in it.

Levi: I grew up in Grangetown, just around the corner from my grandmother, uncles, aunties and cousins. After graduating and setting up shop, I chose to stay and raise my children in Cardiff because it’s genuinely the greatest city in the UK! It’s got just the right level of bustle and even though it rains a lot, when the sun does shine you're close enough to the coast or country to imagine being anywhere in the world.

"I love Cardiff unconditionally. It's home"

I established Hatts Emporium around six years ago as an opportunity to work and help care for my grandmother and brother. We’ve always operated with the idea that you leave a little room to grow, so we don’t force our arguments or ideals too hard and just let people enjoy the experience. Cardiff Market
is the heart of the city. It’s home to over 60 of the capital's smallest and oldest independents. Its history is a conversation of how Welsh society was, is and is going to be. 

I certainly love Cardiff unconditionally. It's home.

Erfyl Parry of Cardiff Castle

ERFYL PARRY has lived in Cardiff for 38 years. A former actor, he's now one of Cardiff Castle's most beloved tour guides.

I came to Cardiff to read drama at the prestigious Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and after graduating in 1985 fell in love with a local girl, got married and made Cardiff my home.

The first thing I love about Cardiff is its size. It's quite small compared with all the other major cities in the UK, which means you can cycle from one end of the city to the other in about half an hour. The city is surrounded by stunning landscapes—within 30 minutes you could be in the heart of the Brecon Beacons and just over an hour to the west you could be lying on the beautiful, unspoilt beaches of the Gower Peninsula. 

cardiff castle

My favourite Cardiff moments happen when I’m sitting in the Principality Stadium with my English friends, joining 70,000 rugby fans in singing the Welsh National Anthem, while watching Wales beat England and making my friends buy the beer! Principality Stadium is the best sports stadium in the world. Plus its sliding roof covers the whole playing area, meaning you don't get wet when it rains! When Wales play rugby at the stadium the whole city centre comes alive with a carnival atmosphere, and there's singing and dancing on the streets. 

Most stadiums are on the outskirts of cities but the Principality is bang in the centre, so it generates millions of pounds for our local economy. Indeed, if you haven't booked your accommodation in advance when Wales are playing, then don't be surprised if Visit Wales sends you to Weston Super Mare because Wales is full! 

"When Wales play rugby the whole city comes alive with a carnival atmosphere, and there's singing and dancing on the streets"

I work as a tour guide at Cardiff Castle—the most important building in Cardiff. It began life as a Roman Fort approximately 2,000 years ago. It's very important to preserve Cardiff Castle as it's part of our history. Throughout history, the castle has been owned by several royals and medieval barons but between 1766-1947 it was owned by the Marquesses of Bute. The second Marquess of Bute was responsible for modern Cardiff. 

In 1801 the population of Cardiff was 6,342. The second Marquess built our docks with his own money, exploiting the coal industry. As a result, a huge amount of people descended on Cardiff from Ireland, Somalia, Sudan and other faraway countries all to find employment within the coal industry—not necessarily as miners, but in wagon building, railway, sailing, steamships and sawmills. By 1851 the population of Cardiff had grown to 26,630 and
soon it became the biggest coal port in the world. 

cardiff castle
Inside Cardiff Castle

The third Marquess of Bute was known as the richest man in Europe and he set about changing the exterior of Cardiff Castle with heightened medieval-style towers with a sequence of dazzling interiors showcasing various types of marble, gilded gold ceilings and carved woodwork inlaid with precious metals and stones. A true Victorian extravaganza all made possible by his friend, the art- architect William Burges. The result is mind-blowing.

During the Second World War, air-raid shelters for the people who worked or lived near the vicinity were built within the castle walls. It accommodated 1,800 people and the shelters can still be seen today. The castle was gifted to the city by fifth Marquess of Bute on September 10, 1947. The citizens of Cardiff can apply for a "Castle Key Card" which gives them free access to the site and a generous discount in the cafe and shop. Well over 350,000 visitors a year come to marvel over its grandeur.

Glasgow has Mackintosh. London has Pugin. But Cardiff has Burges.

 

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