When the Universiy admitted its first students on 24th October 1883 it was called the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire and occupied a building in Newport Road, Cardiff. By 1900 this accommodation was inadequate and the University was granted a five acre site in Cathays Park for a new building, on the site of the kitchen garden for the old Cathays House. This was where there was a nursery on the eastern side of the original Park.

John Viriamu Jones, the first Principal of the University College, was influential in persuading the Cardiff Council to grant the site in Cathays Park. The University authorities took the formal decision in 1903 to proceed with the construction of the new building, which was designed by architect William Douglas Caroe and built by Messrs E Turner & Sons (who later also built the National Museum, Glamorgan County Hall, Technical College, Temple of Peace and Health and the Welsh Board of Health).

The foundation stone inscribed in latin was laid by the Prince of Wales on 28th June 1905. A full account of the ceremony was given in a special illustrated supplement to the following day's Western Mail.[1] The Prince performed the ceremony with a silver plated trowel, designed by the architect and inscribed for the occasion, and a mallet which bore a silver-embossed inscription.[2]


The Earl of Plymouth officially opened the new building on 14th October 1909. The foundation stone with Latin text (see the first photograph below) and a later stone with a Welsh inscription recording the official opening, can be seen at the front entrance to the building from Museum Avenue.



George most serene Prince of Wales, by noblest right Chancellor of the University of Wales, laid this founding stone upon the home of the College, this 28th June in the year of salvation 1905.

Present with Sir Alfred Thomas, President of the College were Godfrey Charles, Viscount of Tredegar, the sole surviving President Emeritus; Robert George, Lord Windsor; overseer of the work to be made, Ernest Howard Griffiths, Principal. - William Douglas Caroe, Architect.



The foundation stone of this building was laid by his royal highness George, Prince of Wales Chancellor of the University of Wales on the 28th June 1905.

This Department of Arts was opened on the 14th October 1909.

A marble statue of John Viriamu Jones was created by Sir William Goscombe John and initially stood in the vestibule of City Hall until the University building was able to accommodate it. The statue is now placed inside the University, in the area known as the Viriamu Jones Gallery.

When opened in 1909 the building was not complete as originally designed: only the west face on Museum Avenue and the central part housing the Drapers Library (now in a modified form the Science Library) had been constructed. Other than the library, the building accommodated the college administration and arts departments. Science laboratories were added on the northern side in 1912, named the Viriamu Jones Physical Research Laboratories after the College's first Principal who had died in 1901. The laboratories were formally opened by King George V, who as Prince of Wales had laid the foundation stone for the building. To mark the royal visit on June 26th 1912 the Western Mail produced a special supplement, which included an account of the 1905 ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone and the Prince of Wales' speech.[3]

The Viriamu Jones Laboratories were originally a separate building (as can be seen in postcard views) but were incorporated into the north wing with the construction of the Tatem Laboratories for chemistry and physics, named after William James Tatem, Lord Glanely, one of the chief benefactors of the College. The foundations for the north wing were laid in April 1923,[4] and the Tatem Laboratories were opened on 21st May 1930 by the Prince of Wales.[5] The photograph below shows the opening ceremony in front of the new building.

Opening of Tatem Laboratories

The rear of the building was damaged in 1941 by bombing, and the effects of shrapnel damage are still visible at the entrance to the north wing and above the east entrance to the central part of the building. Here there was also a fire in the long corridor above the library, where an incendiary bomb caused damage to some chemistry journals. In general this building escaped serious damage, despite a direct hit nearby at the Students Union building 50 Park Place, which was partially demolished. After that attack on the 26/27th February 1941 there were four bomb craters in the College grounds. Number 40 Park Place and Aberdare Hall also received damage.

Further new building took place after the 1939-45 war. The Tatem Laboratories were extended in 1952, and again in 1962 by the Shandon extension, named after the son of Lord Glanely, completing the north wing. The south wing was also built at this time, and both new buildings were opened by the Duke of Edinburgh on 6th June 1962.

As the University expanded this became its Main Building. Many of the early postcards of the University are captioned "University College, Cardiff" or "Cardiff University", names which were only adopted much later. The institution became University College Cardiff in 1972. On 26th September 1988 it merged with the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST) to form the University of Wales College, Cardiff. There was another name change in 1996 to the University of Wales, Cardiff, followed by the adoption of Cardiff University as a public name in 1999. In 2004 the University merged with the University of Wales College of Medicine (UWCM). A new Royal Charter, with formal change of name to Cardiff University, was approved by the Privy Council on 17th December 2004.

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Sources of Information

  1. Western Mail 29th June 1905 pages 6-14
  2. Western Mail 29th June 1905 page 9
  3. Western Mail 27th June 1912 page 19
  4. Western Mail 24th April 1923 page 3
  5. Nature 31st May 1930

Other sources: